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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Shock may lose home arena as owner’s financial dealings face scrutiny

Spokane Shock owner Sam Adams smiles at a 2019 news conference.  (Kathy Plonka)
By Thomas Clouse and Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Shock will lose their home arena at 5 p.m. Wednesday unless team owner Sam Adams secures financial backing for a contract he previously signed with the Spokane Public Facilities District.

But even if the former Seattle Seahawks player-turned-owner delivers the $128,000 surety bond, fans will be forced to support a team that, according to documents and interviews, sometimes won’t pay its employees, hasn’t refunded season-ticket holders from 2020, and lost a lawsuit for failure to pay a vendor.

The Shock, who play in the 16-team Indoor Football League, are scheduled to start the season March 18. But that doesn’t mean Stephanie Curran, CEO of the PFD, is pleased.

“From what I’m hearing, I feel like he came into this community and is taking advantage of the people if he is not refunding season ticket holders and not paying his people,” Curran said. “That’s devastating to me.

“There is a fine line what we can do. If he pays the money, legally, I’m obligated to allow him to do business in our building. That doesn’t mean I’m OK with it. I’m doing everything I can to push him for information and get him to commit to doing the right thing.”

In several interviews Tuesday, Adams said that he plans to come through with the surety bond, a document indicating that he has access to $128,000 to serve as collateral.

“They have a bond that’s due, yes,” Adams said. “That is the plan. We plan on performing” Wednesday.

Asked about reports of employees and vendors not getting paid, Adams responded: “This interview is now over.”

Curran acknowledged the tough position for fans who were hoping to cheer on a popular local franchise with a rich history of success.

“We’ve been in contact with the league throughout all of this,” she said. “They want to confirm that I have the Shock in Spokane and that we will rent to them. If the Shock goes away, the season is already scheduled. It will have a domino effect on all the other teams.”

Capture the energy

Curran said the PFD had trouble this past year of getting payments from Adams.

She said she didn’t know until last week about allegations, that she has since confirmed, that Adams had refused to refund scores of season-ticket holders from the canceled 2020 season.

In every other season, the PFD contracted with TicketsWest to sell season tickets. If fans pay to see an event and that show is canceled, they get a refund for their tickets.

But in 2020, the PFD agreed to allow Adams to sell the season tickets on his own.

“He was going to announce that the Shock was coming back. Sam wanted to do it more quickly than we could get it up and running. He needed to capture the energy,” Curran said.

“We agreed to allow him to sell his season tickets on his own,” she continued. “Those are the tickets he is not refunding. There is nothing I can do about it, legally.”

One of the people who purchased season tickets before the pandemic struck was Jerry Moolick, a retired, disabled veteran who served 20 years in the United States Navy.

He is owed $1,376 for four season tickets and that money is now necessary, Moolick said, to support himself and his son.

“If (Adams) does get money, I know what he’s going to do, he’s going to pay … his people that have been invested in him to get this team going,” Moolick said. “Is he going to put the money in his pocket, pay his credit? I have a bad feeling of which way he’s going to go.”

Moolick has been a fan since the inaugural Shock season in 2006.

He said his lack of a refund and the ensuing contact with Adams has left a sour taste in his mouth.

Multiple emails and phone calls between the PFD and Adams since March strung along the possibility of money being refunded. Adams said in an email to Moolick about a month and a half ago that the money was on the way.

“I never blame the team, but when an owner doesn’t step up and take care of his responsibilities, that’s a bad taste,” Moolick said.

With Adams at the helm, don’t expect to see Moolick’s name on any season ticket packages.

“If the Shock came back with a new owner, new policies and everything else, I would probably come back,” he said. “But the way this is going, no way.”

The decision to work on processing refunds comes after season-ticket holders were told on their ticket confirmation emails that season tickets were nonrefundable and nonexchangeable. Those policies came from the Shock but were in place before the pandemic.

Curran said it was improper to tell fans in an email, that Adams cites, that their season tickets were nonrefundable. She noted that fans don’t get refunds if they simply choose not to attend.

“The difference is, we didn’t have a season” in 2020, she said. “You don’t get to keep the money if you don’t produce an event.”

Adams, last week, said he’s working to pay off the ticket holders.

“I have people that are owed refunds that are going out (this) week for everyone that’s owed refunds,” Adams said. “I am – we’re paying out of our pockets.”

But he hasn’t repaid the fans for the past two years, which included the time when Adams received an undisclosed amount from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program.

Asked how much public money he received from the PPP, Adams replied: “That’s none of your business. Go and find out from them. You are wasting my time.”

Curran said anyone who purchased season tickets for the upcoming season should not worry.

“I’ve never had this occur during my career,” she said of the nonrefunded tickets. “I don’t want anyone to think this is a standard practice at the PFD. We have sold some season tickets. If this falls apart, we will refund them.”

But other people formerly associated with the team are also seeking payment.

Patrick Afif, a former Washington State standout, Shock player and team general manager, filed a lawsuit recently in King County against Adams alleging a breach of contract, and he is also seeking payment for commissions.

Afif said he could not comment, but Adams claimed that Afif wanted money that he did not earn.

“Patrick wanted to be paid for commissions three years in advance. Nobody does that,” Adams said. “The season was canceled and he wanted to be paid. He is suing for sponsorship commissions that haven’t even been realized yet.”

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries investigated five complaints since 2020 in which Shock employees claimed that Adams refused to pay them, spokesman Matthew Erlich said.

Three were confirmed, a fourth complaint was withdrawn after partial payment and a fifth complaint remains under investigation.

“Mr. Adams was saying that he had a death in the family. He was asking about a legal way to withhold wages,” Erlich said. “The only legal way to do that is if you have a valid written agreement signed by the employee.

Adams “did not present any such documents,” he continued.

Asked whether the three employees got paid the combined $3,031.94 they were owed, Erlich replied: “No.”

While he didn’t work for the Shock, Tracy Cassel, former co-owner off Cassel Promotions, designed the banners and signs that most folks associate with the team. He also filed a lawsuit against Adams for failure to pay for several items that he ordered for the team and didn’t fund.

On Aug. 27, Spokane County District Court Judge Patti Connolly Walker issued a default judgment of $2,742.24 for Cassel. It was a default judgment because Adams never responded to the suit, Cassel said.

“I knew that I probably would never see a dime,” Cassel said.

“But I wanted to voice my opinion of that guy when I was going out of business. He was the only customer I had who didn’t pay me.”