One chapter in a bizarre fraud case involving two of the nation's largest banking companies should come to a close today, though federal officials say they will continue their investigation.
Dallas businessman John Spano Jr. is expected to plead guilty today in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts to two counts of fraud in connection with an $80 million loan he received from Fleet Financial Group for his purchase of the New York Islanders hockey franchise last April.
Mr. Spano has already pleaded guilty to four related fraud counts-two each in Texas and New York. He is expected to be sentenced on all six counts in New York and could get up to 63 months in prison.
In previous pleadings, Mr. Spano admitted to lying about his net worth so he could buy the Islanders, saying he was worth $250 million when his assets totaled only $1.2 million.
Mr. Spano is also accused of bilking Comerica Bank Texas and several other lenders out of a total of $5 million. Comerica has since recovered $2 million.
Exactly how the 33-year-old Texan managed to convince so many to lend him so much is unclear.
Said Paul Coggins, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, "A lot of people wanted to believe in him."
The situation unraveled last June when Mr. Spano, who had bought the Islanders for $165 million, missed a payment to former owner John Pickett. The National Hockey League suspended Mr. Spano from team operations and gave those duties back to Mr. Pickett, who resold the team in September to a group headed by Phoenix Coyotes co-owner Steven Gluckstern.
Fleet officials said the hockey team has assumed the loan the Boston bank made to Mr. Spano, and it does not expect to lose any money. David Splaine, the former head of Fleet's sports lending group, who approved the loan, resigned last July. Officials said they do not suspect Fleet of wrongdoing.
Comerica Bank Texas, a unit of Detroit-based Comerica Inc., became further enmeshed in the controversy when a Comerica commercial banker allegedly vouched for Mr. Spano's net worth to the Islanders before the team's sale.
Last week, Comerica confirmed that Joseph Lynch, a senior vice president, had left the company. Federal officials said Mr. Spano had paid more than $2,000 to put up Mr. Lynch and another Comerica official in a luxurious Long Island hotel. Comerica declined to comment further, and Mr. Lynch could not be reached.
Officials in New York and Texas said last week that their investigation continues. "There is a related matter that is still open," said Mr. Coggins in Texas, but he would not reveal whether it was connected to one of the banks.
Joseph R. Conway, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said his investigation continues as well. Mr. Spano was charged with mail and wire fraud in New York and with bank fraud in the other two states.
Paul G. Levenson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, declined to say whether his investigation would continue.
Mr. Spano admits he was wrong and "would like to get this behind him as soon as possible," said his New York lawyer, Nicholas Gravante Jr.