Chicago Steel hockey team owners face off in court over funds from sale of club to new ownership group

By Scott Holland | Nov 6, 2015

Partners in a minor league hockey outfit are now facing off in Cook County court over the alleged refusal of the majority partner to pay a minority partner his winnings after netting a sale of the club for $2.75 million earlier this year.

Michael Greenberg, 25 percent owner of Chicago Hockey LLC, which operates the Chicago Steel hockey club, filed a complaint against Bruce Liimatainen, the man who owns the other 75 percent of the hockey business, after Liimatainen refused to formally dissolve the LLC and disburse the remaining assets with the hockey club now under new corporate ownership.

At its founding in March 2000, Liimatainen was Chicago Hockey LLC’s only member. The next month, his company purchased the Chicago Steel, which plays in the United States Hockey League. The franchise then was based at Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, but has since relocated its home ice to the Fox Valley Ice Arena in far west suburban Geneva.

On Dec. 1, 2001, Chicago Hockey and Liimatainen amended the company’s operating agreement to add Greenberg as a partner, alongside Stephen A. Witek and Joseph A. Curci. Greenberg bought in for $200,000 — a 25 percent share — while Witek paid $50,000 for a 6.25 percent interest and Curci gave $10,000 for a 1.25 percent interest. Ultimately, Witek and Curci sold their shares back to Liimatainen, the complaint stated.

Greenberg said Liimatainen has always controlled Chicago Hockey’s financial accounts, to which Greenberg has no access. For instance, Greenberg alleged Liimatainen made a $635,000 loan sometime in 2014 to the business but did not disclose the loan to Greenberg, as Greenberg alleged the operating agreement requires. When Greenberg loaned money to the club — he says it owes him $84,367 — Liimatainen approved the loan details.

Discussions about selling the team started in August 2014.

Greenberg said his brother told him about Larry Robbins, a New Jersey hedge fund manager looking to buy a USHL franchise. Greenberg says Liimatainen initially ignored his report of a potential buyer, though the three men did eventually have a conference call.

On April 20, 2015, Robbins’ associate John Egan contacted Greenberg to report he and Robbins would be in Chicago and wanted to meet with Liimatainen personally regarding the sale.

Greenberg said Liimatainen ignored that information, but Greenberg still met with Robbins and Egan in Orland Park. Following that meeting, Greeenberg took Egan to tour the Steel’s home arena. Just 15 minutes after the tour, Greenberg said Robbins called him to finalize a deal.

Greenberg reportedly asked Robbins to make an offer he could forward to Liimatainen, which is when Robbins offered $2.75 million — $1.5 million more than an offer Liimatainen said he received from another buyer.

Robbins formed RInc Chicago Steel to buy the club. He agreed to pay $2.42 million cash and $330,000 in equity to Liimatainen, his son and Greenberg. The two firms closed on the sale on July 8. Before that, $500,000 was put into escrow; RInc paid the remainder at closing. Liimatainen landed a 10 percent interest in RInc, his son and Greenberg each got 1 percent interests.

Greenberg’s complaint further detailed emails, text messages and calls Greenberg purportedly sent to Liimatainen in hopes of getting his share of the buyout leading up to filing the complaint. Greenberg said the message also spell out Liimatainen’s threat to tie up Greenberg in court.

In the complaint’s six counts, Greenberg seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees. He wants a judge to allow Greenberg to conduct a full accounting of the hockey club, to formally dissolve Chicago Hockey LLC and to force Liimatainen to allow Greenberg to participate in winding down the business.

He also wants a judge to declare Liimatainen is not entitled to indemnification pursuant to the club’s operating agreement.

Greenberg’s attorney is Matthew A. Wlodarczyk, of Wlodarczyk Law, of Arlington Heights.

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