One of the hardest things to understand about the supernova rise and subsequent crash of Bruce McNall, the West Coast entrepreneur famous for bringing hockey star Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles, is how a half a dozen financial institutions were seduced by his salesmanship.

Discussions with bankers and their lawyers make it clear that Mr. McNall's career as a coin dealer, race horse trader, movie producer, and sports club owner was never really questioned until the wobbly structure upon which he'd built his empire was about to collapse.

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