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Ex-Chicago Rush owner pleads guilty to fraud

Chicago Rush owner David Staral in 2013 | File photo

Former Chicago Rush owner David Staral finally pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal fraud charges leveled against him more than a year ago in connection with his doomed purchase of the Arena Football League team.

The 36-year-old Waukegan native appeared before U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman during an afternoon hearing and admitted to one count of bankruptcy fraud and one count of wire fraud. He spoke in a weak voice and wrung his hands when the hearing ended. Afterward, he quickly left the Dirksen Federal Courthouse without commenting.

He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison at his sentencing hearing, which is set for July 11.

The Sun-Times first reported on the chaos that followed Staral’s brief tenure at the Rush, during which players went unpaid. Staral was a three-time convicted felon, had just filed bankruptcy and was trailed by litigation. In an interview, he denied any wrongdoing in buying the team and said: “My past is my past — I’ve been trying to work through it.”

But the feds alleged he hid the purchase of the team from his creditors and a bankruptcy court judge.

The scandal created a major embarrassment for the Arena Football League, which was apparently unaware Staral was in bankruptcy when he bought what was once the league’s marquee franchise. The commissioner of the Arena League told investigators that if he had known of Staral’s alleged misrepresentations, he would never have allowed him to buy the team.

Staral falsely represented to the Arena Football League’s commissioner that he had a personal net worth of more than $5 million during purchase negotiations in February 2013, according to the charges filed against him. He also allegedly lied in bankruptcy court when he testified under oath that he was unemployed, even though he had taken over as manager and owner of the Rush. The team is now defunct.

He committed bankruptcy fraud by scheming to discharge more than $900,000 in unsecured debt, while concealing from his creditors and the bankruptcy trustee additional businesses he was involved with, income he had received before filing for bankruptcy, and at least two personal bank accounts, the feds alleged.

Staral previously filed a bankruptcy petition in 2002 — and knew how it would give him a chance at a fresh start, the feds claimed.

The feds say he pocketed $5,000 in Chicago Rush ticket sales for himself and used it to pay for groceries, gas and his car loan.