There is a smell coming from the UHL Trashers franchise that suggests that there is something rotten in Danbury.
At least the Feds think there might be. The FBI has swept the UHL's Trashers into their ongoing probe of owner James Galante, who counts the two-year old team amongst his holdings.
According to reports by the Associated Press and the Danbury News-Times, federal investigators have questioned UHL President Richard Brosal, and have served five current or former Trashers players with subpoenas, as part of a larger look into Galante's business dealings. The five players are, Brent Gretzky, Jeff Daw, Jim Duhart, Scott Sterling, and Jay Murphy.
Galante, who made his fortune in the waste removal business, hence the "Trashers" moniker, is one of several waste removal operators in New York and Connecticut who are suspected of violating federal anti-racketeering laws.
While Galante's involvement with the UHL is a minor part of the overall investigation, the government is interested in finding out whether he has made under the table payments to Trasher players, thereby violating UHL salary cap rules. The probe brings into question the league's credibility, and Brosal's leadership of the UHL.
Galante has been a controversial figure since becoming a part of a UHL ownership group that has had a blemished record.
The unusual abounds in Danbury. The team’s presidency was turned over to son A.J. Galante at the tender age of 19 (See: "What I Want for Christmas"). Most notably, Galante was involved in a bizarre incident after a game last year, in which he was accused of choking linesman James Harper (See: "Taking Out the Trashers"). Legal charges were pressed, then dropped. While Galante received a brief suspension by Brosal for his actions, it amounted to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
The UHL, which has struggled with credibility problems over the last few years, seemed to be getting past some of those bumps in the road.
A franchise owner in Columbus, Ohio with a poor prior track record of operating professional hockey teams shuttered the nascent Columbus Stars franchise in less than half a season in 2003-2004 (See: "The Fault Lies Within the Stars, Not Ourselves.") The choking incident with Galante was the following year's folly.
Brosal will wait until the government investigation is completed before taking any action, if he takes any action at all. If the allegations that Galante has been using the Trashers as a front for any illegal activity (e.g. money laundering), the Commissioner might have no choice but to pull the franchise, or seek a replacement of the ownership. Players found to have received "off the books" payments should be handed down stiff suspensions or even lifetime banishments.
Hockey is doing well in Danbury. The Trashers enjoy a sizable lead atop the UHL's Eastern Division.
If Galante's garbage biz mucks up the game for the fans, the UHL will have a second major ownership debacle in three years, and Galante won't be the only one with some "'Splainin'" to do.
I think I can say this: the more bad press that Galante and the Trashers get, the more their rabid and loyal fans ratchet-up their frenzied behaviour.
Witness this one report that I was reading earlier today, about the fans in the Danbury Ice Arena's notorious Section 102:
Don't expect me to be returning to that arena anytime soon-- that place is BRUTAL... there were the group of fans in Section 102 who were the most rude and brutal group I have ever had to deal with. Well, I should have known what I was in for when I saw the team slogan on the screen... "Welcome to Hell"
Well, the team's promotional video does end with the tag-line, "Hell On Ice". (Windows Media Player)
Myself, I'd just like to get a t-shirt that looks like this: