Former Chicago Rush owner David Staral gets 3 1/2 years for fraud

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Chicago Rush owner David Staral in 2013 | File photo

The one-time owner of the Chicago Rush Thursday was sentenced to more than three years in prison for defrauding investors in the failed Arena Football team.

Prosecutors said David Staral was a serial fraudster who lied to Arena Football League owners four years ago when he bought the struggling Chicago franchise, claiming to the league he was a successful investor even as he was drowning in debts that included fines for another scam.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman said Staral presented a “a unique case,” noting that Staral had lied even on his bankruptcy paperwork and to a bankruptcy judge working out of the same federal courthouse where Staral now faced sentencing.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in my 20 years on the bench who has committed fraud in so many ways,” Guzman said as Staral, wearing a stylish three-piece suit and trendy, close-cropped haircut, swayed nervously in front of the judge.

“To come into this building and deliberately lie in so many different ways, under oath and to judges, in writing… the public has to know: you don’t come into this building and lie. If you do, you go to jail.”

Staral, who gave lengthy interviews when he bought the now-defunct Rush in 2013, pledging to rebuild the failing team even if he had to dig into his own pockets, declined to comment as he left the courtroom.

Staral’s lawyer said in the years since he was charged with fraud, he had taken care of his ailing younger sister, and avoided trouble with the law.

Lisa Julin, a financial advisor who was taken in by Staral, was unmoved by the testimony.

“I thought he was a friend of mine,” Julin said. “He was good to his sister with my money… He not only took money from me, he also took my reputation as a business person.”

Staral, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of bankruptcy fraud and one count of wire fraud, and faced more than seven years in prison on the charges. Guzman also ordered Staral to pay restitution of $139,000 to his victims.

During Staral’s three-month tenure as owner of the Rush, players and vendors went unpaid and the AFL eventually took over the club in order to finish the season, incurring losses of more than $1 million. The team folded after the 2013 season. AFL Commissioner Scott Butera did not immediately return calls from the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday.

At the time he bought the Rush, Staral was a three-time convicted felon, had just filed bankruptcy and was defendant in lawsuits from a prior employer from whom he’d embezzled money.

But in an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business that year, Staral claimed to be flush.

“There’s going to be a lot of money coming out of my pockets going through this season, but you go into it knowing that,” he said.

But despite the publicity blitz, Staral hid the purchase of the team from his creditors and a bankruptcy court judge. Two weeks after buying the Rush, Staral testified under oath that he was unemployed, even though he had taken over as manager and owner of the Rush.

Staral also gave AFL officials phony balance sheets showing he had a personal net worth of more than $5 million during purchase negotiations in February 2013. In fact, he owed more than $1 million to some 60 creditors, according to his bankruptcy filings. But, in those filings, he didn’t list assets in multiple bank accounts, or that he had received money from Rush ticket sales.

A northwest suburban native, Staral asked to report to prison in August, and requested assignment to the federal facility in Oxford, Wis.

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