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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

Storm team owes over $370,000 in tax liens

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Internal Revenue Service has filed tax liens totaling more than $370,000 against the owners of the Toledo Storm hockey team and the Toledo Sports Arena in which the team plays.

It is the second time in three years federal tax liens have been filed against Toledo's pro-fessional minor-league hockey team, which has National Hockey League affili-ations with both the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks and has struggled financially in the past.

A $211,464 federal tax lien was filed against Professional Hockey LLC, which owns the Storm, on Oct. 2 with the Lucas County recorder's office. An additional $44,848 tax lien was filed against the team Oct. 19, and another IRS lien totaling $115,829 was filed Oct. 2 against the Toledo Sports Arena, the facility on the east side where the Storm plays its home games.

Barry Soskin, who took control of the team again last year, seven years after he sold it to Tim Gladieux, said the financial problems stemmed from past management and "won't affect the Toledo Storm hockey team at all."

"I won't say I'm not concerned," Mr. Soskin added. "This is one of the reasons the Toledo Storm was in such dire straits and needed to make a change."

Mr. Gladieux sold the Sports Arena and its 25.5 acres to the City of Toledo for $5 million in 2005. The arena, built in 1947, will likely be knocked down to make room for the planned Marina District project.

Under an agreement with the city, Mr. Gladieux continues to lease the arena for the hockey team for up to five years, and must cover all expenses, including taxes and upkeep.

Mr. Gladieux refused or failed to honor repeated requests last week for an interview with The Blade concerning the tax liens. Offered a "final" opportunity to comment on the matter Monday, he said in a telephone interview that the problem resulted from a bookkeeper "who wasn't doing her job" and is no longer with his company.

He said his company intends to verify the amounts owed with the IRS before taking any action on the liens. "We think the verification by our accounting department should be completed in the next week or two, and then it will be paid in full," he said.

Mr. Gladieux was president of the ECHL team when similar financial problems occurred in the past. In 2003, The Blade inquired about $57,000 in liens filed against the team by the IRS and the state of Ohio.

At the time, Mr. Gladieux said his staff members determined the IRS failed to credit the company for a $14,000 tax payment made in November, 2001, and that figure with penalties could account for $19,000 of the total sought by the government. He also said staff members determined the team owed money to Ohio only because the state failed to cash a check.

Records obtained by The Blade show the Ohio Department of Taxation filed judgment liens in 2005 against the Storm to collect sales and withholding taxes totaling a couple of thousand dollars. Most of the debts were satisfied, but records indicate about $1,000 in two liens appears to be unresolved.

Mr. Soskin acknowledged he hasn't been immune to the Storm's past financial struggles, but insisted the team is headed in the right direction. "This is what you have to deal with for picking this up and putting it back together," he said.

Ticket sales are up from last year, Mr. Soskin insisted, adding that the Storm last year and this year returned "back to the old ways of winning."

Nick Vitucci, who is in his third season as Storm coach and is also director of player personnel, said he has never been turned down when requesting equipment or any other item that he or his players have needed. "In my entire time here, especially since Barry has taken over, I've been given every means possible to succeed," he said.

Blade Staff Writers Mark Monroe and Mark Reiter contributed to this report.



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