Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams caused a minor flap last weekend when he extended two boisterous middle fingers to the Buffalo Bills' sideline. While some fans might think an 86-year-old man firing the bird with both barrels is amusing, the NFL didn't share in the chuckle; instead, the league fined Adams $250,000. Adams is hardly the first sports owner to find himself in a dicey situation, though. Sure, you know about the transgressions of the George Steinbrenners and Al Davises of the world, but check out these other out-of-control sports owners:
1. John Spano, New York Islanders
If you're going to buy a sports franchise, it helps to have the money to pay for it. It's by no means a prerequisite, though, as John Spano demonstrated when he bought the New York Islanders in 1996. Spano claimed to run a 6,000-employee leasing company and have a net worth of $230 million.
However, it quickly became apparent that Spano didn't actually have the cash he claimed. His deal to buy the Islanders had included an $80 million payment to pick up the team's cable rights, but his checks kept bouncing (or he'd send a $1,000 check instead of a $17 million one). A subsequent investigation revealed that Spano was really only worth roughly $2 million, and his company only had 22 employees, not 6,000. Spano's payments for the $80 million TV deal ended up totaling around $26,000.
Eventually, Spano was charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and forgery, with many of the charges stemming from his brief ownership of the Islanders. In 2000, he was sentenced to 71 months in prison. After he was released on parole in 2004, Spano quickly worked his way back into jail by perpetrating another loan fraud.
2. Ernie Paragallo, Race Horse Owner
His name isn't as familiar as some of the others on this list, but thoroughbred race horse owner and breeder Paragallo found himself in seriously hot water earlier this year. New York state police raided Paragallo's Climax, NY, horse farm in April and charged the owner with 22 counts of torturing or injuring animals and failing to provide them with enough food. Paragallo, who burst onto the national racing scene in 1996 as the owner of Kentucky Derby favorite Unbridled's Song, received a grand jury indictment for an additional 13 cruelty charges in August.
3. Cornel Penescu, FC Arges
Don't tell us you don't follow Romanian soccer. Last May, Penescu, the owner of the Romanian soccer team FC Arges, was arrested on charges of attempting to bribe officials to rig matches in Arges' favor. According to Romania's anti-corruption authorities, Penescu filled four referees' pockets to the tune of $165,000. In return, the refs were to make sure Arges kept picking up victories. If convicted, Penescu faces up to 15 years in prison.
Oddly, this sort of thing might not be all that uncommon in Romanian soccer. An earlier corruption investigation centered on the owner of another team, FC Steaua, offering 1.7 million euros to a team if they would beat Steaua's main rival. Although officials never got the charges to stick, a Steaua exec was detained on game day while carrying a suitcase stuffed with—you guessed it—1.7 million euros.
4. Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds
Among the late Cincinnati Reds owner's more colorful controversies: owning a Nazi armband and claiming Hitler was "good at the beginning, but he just went too far," using racial slurs when referring to her own players, giving her St. Bernard free reign over the Reds' ballpark, and expressing disappointment when Opening Day was postponed following the on-field death of umpire John McSherry. Classy lady.
5. William Del Biaggio, Nashville Predators
You'd think people would have learned about trying to buy an NHL team with ill-gotten funds from the cautionary tale of John Spano. William "Boots" Del Biaggio apparently didn't, though. The Silicon Valley financier forged a series of financial documents in order to convince several banks and two NHL owners to give him around $110 million in loans. Del Biaggio then used this cash to buy a stake in the Nashville Predators.
As it turned out, though, the stock holdings that Del Biaggio had used as collateral for his loans weren't really his. Instead he'd just acquired other, richer peoples' account statements and doctored them to include his name. Prosecutors weren't so amused when they uncovered the scam. They forced Del Biaggio into bankruptcy, including the liquidation of his stake in the Predators, and charged him with forging financial documents. In September, Del Biaggio received his sentence: eight years in prison and an order to pay $67 million in restitution. The lesson here: think twice before making nine-figure loans to guys named "Boots."
6. Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers
The longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner ran afoul of the law in May 2007 when he drove his gold Mercedes station wagon the wrong way down a Carlsbad, CA, street. When the California Highway Patrol pulled Buss over, they learned the 74-year-old owner was quite drunk and quickly arrested Buss for driving under the influence. Buss issued a statement that said, "Although I was driving only a short distance, it was a bad decision and I was wrong to do it."
NBA Commissioner David Stern wasn't totally placated by Buss' apology, though. He suspended Buss for the first two games of the 2007-2008 season and fined the owner $25,000. Additionally, Buss' criminal conviction carried a $1,900 fine, five years' probation, and enrollment in a first-time offenders' program.
7. Peter Pocklington, Edmonton Oilers
The former owner of the Edmonton Oilers took a few liberties with the Stanley Cup. When the Oilers won their first Cup in 1984, Pocklington had his father's name engraved on the trophy. The NHL dealt with the problem by striking over the elder Pocklington's name with a line of "X"s. In early 2009, authorities in California arrested Pocklington on bankruptcy fraud charges. NHL coaching legend Glen Sather posted Pocklington's $1 million bond.
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And here's the video of Bud Adams in action: