The Spokane Shock once took the Lilac City by storm, lost its name and its franchise before roaring back in 2019 behind a new owner who promised to restore the franchise to its championship glory.
That effort ended Thursday as the failed finances of owner Sam Adams caught up to the former Seattle Seahawk. Adams missed the Thursday deadline to produce a $128,000 surety bond to secure the Spokane Arena for the upcoming Indoor Football League season.
As the deadline loomed, the Indoor Football League board of directors took action of their own. They terminated the Shock “due to multiple issues in the Spokane market, including a dispute with the arena.”
“This is not an ideal situation to say the least; you never want to see a member going through issues in such a public way,” IFL Commissioner Todd Tryon said in a news release. “We felt it was necessary to move on from the Spokane market and adjust our schedule accordingly.
“We have so many positive things we are experiencing in our league and as unfortunate as this situation is, we will get better as we move forward.”
Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District, said she was disappointed for local fans. She extended the deadline for Adams from Wednesday to Thursday to eliminate any legal questions and ensure he had every opportunity to comply.
“Spokane is a great sports town,” Curran said. “We have so many successful sports. To see one of our sports teams terminated is actually very devastating.”
The IFL has already removed the Shock from its schedule.
Adams made one last attempt Thursday to fulfill the financial obligations required by the PFD to secure the arena.
“We got an email from Sam at 4:27 p.m. saying that the IFL had terminated his agreement and that he is applying to play in the NAL and that he’ll have more information” Friday, Curran said. “So, he’s in default.”
While he missed the deadline to secure the funding, Adams said late Thursday that he hoped to join the National Arena League, made up of East Coast teams, and salvage the situation with Curran and the PFD.
“We have reached out to the NAL to see if we can play,” Adams said. “We are reconfiguring things and we will make sure that all our season ticket holders, all our vendors, all our sponsors, everybody will be taken care of.”
The NAL does not play until April. “So, we have time,” Adams said. “I have informed our players, coaches and we are currently working to make sure we have a place to play.”
But that venue won’t be the Spokane Arena.
Curran said she had no information about the NAL, nor did she want any.
“I have no intention to negotiate with Sam on another league,” Curran said.
Curran said she didn’t learn until earlier this month that Adams’ prior business had pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge related to unpaid taxes and wages and had a massive federal bankruptcy that was still active when he signed the first contract in 2019.
In 2015, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson charged Adams and his former business partner with dozens of felonies under the allegations that they bilked $522,000 by evading state taxes and not paying about a dozen of his former employees from clubs Adams once owned in Tacoma and Seattle, according to the Seattle Times.
The case finally ended in 2017 when Adam’s company, Hollystone Holdings, pleaded guilty to a single count of first-degree theft under the agreement that he paid his former employees and back taxes.
Even before Ferguson went after Adams with criminal charges, Adams and his wife, Erika, filed for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was later converted to a Chapter 7, or liquidation, bankruptcy.
According to court records, the Adams couple eventually paid $1.3 million to creditors and some $17.7 million of other claimants went unpaid, including large sums to the Internal Revenue Service and state Department of Revenue.
That bankruptcy wasn’t settled until November 2020. About that same time, Adams received about $142,000 in two installments from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program.
Earlier this week, Adams refused to say how much he received or how he spent those funds, which were earmarked for employers to pay employees.
Then this week, reports were confirmed by The Spokesman-Review that several employees had reached out to state regulators, who confirmed that Adams had refused to pay them.
“I’ve also had a really hard time the last week knowing that he has taken advantage of people in our community,” Curran said. “To know he came in here and took advantage of innocent people, I’m glad that he’s not going to be able to do that any more.”
Former Shock dance team director Cassie Maher said Adams never paid her a penny of her contracted money that she estimated was about $13,000 worth of work.
Maher served as the director since the second Shock season in 2007. She worked under three different owners. She described her time before Adams as amazing. But everything changed under Adams, she said.
“He really saw the dance team as a way for him to get money, but not people he needs to take care of,” Maher said.
In the 2021 season, the dance team was paid $25 each per game, for about six hours of work. According to Maher, Adams did pay up the dancers for the games they danced but owes them about $1,100 for promotional events.
She wanted to clearly separate Adams from the rest of the Shock staff, who all have since left.
“All of the staff that Sam had, kept quitting,” Maher said. “They were great people, I got to know quite a few of them. I still talk to multiple of them. He had fantastic people working for him, but he just treated them so poorly that nobody wanted to stick around.”
Two of those former employees were Andrew O’Connor, a ticket sales representative, and Jami Doll, the director of community relations.
On Feb. 16, O’Connor posted to Facebook how Adams did not pay him for at least the final month of his tenure at the Shock. O’Connor also described how he watched Adams “run off” the vice president and the entire business, gameday and coaching staffs.
” … there’s not a single face in that building that was there last year,” O’Connor wrote.
On Monday, in the same Facebook thread, Doll wrote: “There are SEVERAL of us all in the same boat,” she wrote. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars Sam Adams owes dozens of employees.”
Several former employees declined to comment. Maher, the dance instructor, said it could be because people are afraid of retribution.
“He’ll threaten you,” Maher said. “I mean, he says really nasty stuff to people. He told me to lose my attitude. Otherwise, I would be getting sued.”
Doll, in the Facebook post, agreed.
“He’s messaged several of us previous employees as well threatening the same thing,” Doll wrote. “Reporting facts is not slander, nor is it illegal.”
Maher said the whole situation was sad to watch.
“I’m honestly just really hoping that he stands no chance of continuing to take advantage of everybody in our city,” Maher said. “He just seems to keep finding a way to cause trouble.”
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