IVERSIDE, Calif. – Former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington is off to the real world penalty box — prison.
A judge in Riverside, Calif., sentenced the 71-year-old on Friday to six months behind bars for violating a term of his probation on a perjury conviction.
“Onward and upward,” Pocklington said in a news release.
“Those who know me also know that throughout my life, I have encountered and successfully overcome much adversity. I do so again now, grateful for the expressions of support I have received from my family, friends and associates. Adversity is a great teacher and makes those who strive to overcome it better people.”
The colourful Canadian business tycoon, who earned millions in everything from hockey to hogs only to face mountains of debt and the wrath of Albertans, has been dogged by controversy and legal problems for decades.
But this will marks the first time he’ll be sent to prison.
U.S. assistant attorney Tony Raphael said Pocklington must surrender to U.S. prison authorities on Dec. 9. It’s not yet know which facility he’ll be sent to.
Judge Virginia Phillips granted the delay so Pocklington can travel to Florida for surgery in November, said the prosecutor. Court documents show he has eye and colon problems, but Raphael wasn’t clear what the surgery is for.
Other than the hospital trip, Pocklington must remain in the central district of California. He will likely be fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet on Monday, Raphael said.
Pocklington will also be under two years of supervised release, including six months of house arrest, when he gets out of prison.
“Obviously, this is not a development I welcome, but I accept full responsibility for my actions,” said Pocklington. “I will willingly comply with each and every condition of my supervised release.”
The prosecutor recommended Pocklington serve a nine-year sentence.
Defence lawyer Brent Romney asked the judge to spare his client from prison so he could care for his ailing wife, Eva, who recently suffered heart failure and received a pacemaker.
The defence also submitted as evidence several letters from high school students, sent to Pocklington after he spoke to their health class about “positive self esteem.”
Raphael said the letters backfired.
“The judge felt that actually that kind of cut against him,” he said.
“Her comment was the letters showed the defendant went out and talked to the kids about how he became successful and wealthy. But really, she felt he should have talked to them about how he got in trouble with the law and also had been convicted of a crime.”
Several students wrote about how they wanted to be successful like Pocklington. They were inspired when they told them he was 13 when he decided he was going to be rich and 20 when he made his first million.
“When people hated you and said things to you, you never gave up,” wrote one teen. “I wanna thank you for opening my eyes and showing me how to never quit and make the right choices.”
Court heard earlier this week that Pocklington had submitted a false monthly income report to his probation officer. Raphael said Pocklington didn’t adequately disclose a $15,000 consulting fee he received in January 2012.
In 2010, the Canadian businessman was sentenced to six months of house arrest and two years probation for perjury. He pleaded guilty to the charge and admitted to lying during previous bankruptcy proceedings.
In exchange, charges of bankruptcy fraud were dropped.
Pocklington filed a bankruptcy claim in 2008 stating he was virtually penniless and owed almost $US20 million. The FBI arrested him at his home in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs, the following year.
In previous court documents, investigators said they believed Pocklington was associated with off-shore companies registered in the Bahamas.
In the end, Pocklington admitted in court that he had declared bankruptcy without disclosing that he had control over bank accounts and storage facilities containing assets and property of his wife.
A lawyer representing several creditors still looking for Pocklington to pay up was also in court Friday. Raphael said the judge gave the creditors permission to file a motion asking that financial records entered into the hearing be unsealed.
Pocklington’s creditors include the Alberta government, which loaned the businessman money to prop up his Gainers meat-packing company and other failed enterprises. A Canadian court earlier ruled that Pocklington owes the province $13 million.
In May, Pocklington and an associate settled a securities fraud case in Arizona and were ordered to pay more than US$5 million.
Pocklington is most famous for bringing Wayne Gretzky to Edmonton in 1978, then trading the superstar player a decade later to the Los Angeles Kings. Livid hockey fans burned the owner in effigy outside the city’s arena.
Mired in debt, Pocklington later sold the team to a consortium of local buyers and headed for California.
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton