HIDALGO — One side says they just want to get paid. The other claims they signed a bad deal.
Dueling lawsuits between the once and present owners of the region’s only professional hockey team raise questions about the financial viability of such a franchise in the Rio Grande Valley.
A group led by former Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees owner Joe Sakulenzki sued the franchise’s current ownership, led by Richard Troy Nelson, saying his group had not paid more than $2.1 million that was due to him in November 2010.
Nelson countered with his own lawsuit, claiming Sakulenzki and his investors falsified the hockey franchise’s financial statements to show it had turned a profit when it had not.
The legal fight has remained tied up in court since Sakulenzki filed his lawsuit in January. Nelson countersued in March.
No court hearings have been called in the case. Sakulenzki’s lawyer, Chris Franz, said they would prefer to settle the matter in private. He said Sakulenzki and his investors remain “undecided” on how hard they may push to reclaim the $2.175 million owed — which could go as far as reclaiming ownership of the team or liquidating its assets.
“Everything is really on the table at this point,” Franz said. “All our options remain open as far as that’s concerned.”
Nelson’s countersuit charges the Killer Bees’ financial records had been “manipulated, modified or changed” to show the hockey team and the Rio Grande Valley Dorados — defunct since its indoor football league folded in 2009 — were turning a profit when they struck the deal in November 2006. Nelson’s group bought the two clubs together from Sakulenzki and his partners for more than $3.2 million.
Franz called Nelson’s claims “kind of funny,” given that his wife, Sandy Nelson, is a certified public accountant.
None of the franchise’s financial records were included alongside documents filed in the case assigned to the 398th state District Court.
Nelson deferred comment to his lawyer, Jaime Gonzalez, who did not respond to requests for an interview. Gonzalez did provide copies of court documents he filed on his client’s behalf.
Named as a defendant in Sakulenzki’s lawsuit, Cynthia Ann Arteaga had been a former owner of the Dorados and was not actively involved with the Killer Bees.
The dueling lawsuits come at a time when the Central Hockey League, which hosts the Killer Bees, finds itself in a state of flux.
The CHL itself, with 18 clubs competing this season, has endured rumors about its own viability in the future.
And teams in Corpus Christi, Odessa, Austin and elsewhere have left the league. The Killer Bees’ nearest competitor, the Laredo Bucks, recently announced it would continue as a pro team, but whether it would be in the CHL is uncertain. That departure would leave the Killer Bees’ nearest competitor more than 500 miles away, in North Richland Hills, a Fort Worth suburb.
Should the Killer Bees follow other teams and depart from the league — a notion the team has repeatedly denied — that could make it even tougher for Sakulenzki to collect the money owed, Franz said.
The Killer Bees on Sunday completed their eighth season in the Central Hockey League. They have been named franchise of the year twice— once each under the helm of Sakulenzki and Nelson.
“The Bees, at least while my clients ran them, was one of the better teams in the league,” Franz said. “We were even cited as being a good example … of how you can run a team in that league in an area of this size.”
Jared Taylor covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4439. Brian Sandalow covers the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956)683-4436.