The experience of writing this blog has only served to heighten a long-simmering suspicion of the personal financial advisor industry. Years ago, I was working for a minor league baseball team when a friend and co-worker asked if his cousin Brendan could come in a buy lunch for the office. The cousin was starting out as an American Express Financial Advisor and he had a monthly quota of corporate lunch presentations to hawk disability policies and IRAs and so on. The thing was, I already knew Brendan. Brendan was a bartender at a place downtown where we watched a few Red Sox playoff games. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s weird to get financial advice from a kid in his 20′s working two jobs to make ends meet. I said yes because it was an easy favor for a friend and because we’d get a free cold cut platter and because nobody in that front office including me had two nickels to rub together anyway, let alone to invest with Brendan.
When I first heard of the court case against the former owner of the Trenton Lightning indoor football team, I’d already penned an early FWiL piece about an audacious low-life named Jeffrey Fischer who funded his Sarasota Stingers minor league basketball team with millions stolen from his primarily elderly stock brokerage clients in the early 1980′s.
The Trenton Lightning of the Indoor Professional Football League were another embezzlement-powered start-up in a remote outpost of the minor league industry. In this case, an American Express Financial Advisor named Philip Subhan secretly diverted money from at least two of his clients to fund his pro sports fantasies. Most of the money – over $100,000 – was stolen from Sandra Kelly, a 90-year old blind widow who trusted Subhan and one of his Amex Financial partners to open her mail and write checks for her using a rubber signature stamp. Soon enough, Subhan began writing checks to himself.
The Lightning belonged to the IPFL (1999-2001), a fly-by-night indoor football operation that attempted to replicate the Arena Football League’s game in smaller markets. Arena Football’s founders actually had patents on the sport and sued the IPFL’s predecessor league for patent and trademark infringement. The IPFL got around the issue by playing without endzone nets, which were the key innovation of the AFL’s game covered by the patents. When Subhan signed on for 2001 with his Trenton franchise, the league had just four other teams, stretched across the country from Boise, Idaho to Knoxville, Tennessee.
IPFL players earned only about $200/game so most of the players were local products. The Lightning roster was heavy on guys from Rutgers, Montclair State and The College of New Jersey. Former Denver Broncos return specialist Vaughn Hebron was the team’s Head Coach and biggest name. That’s him on the cover of the team yearbook at the top of this post.
For a team in such a crummy league, the Lightning actually drew quite well at Trenton’s Sovereign Bank Arena. The club averaged about 3,000 fans per night for three home games in April and May 2001, according to The New York Times.
Decent attendance proved irrelevant for an operation backed by the pilfered life savings of little old blind ladies, however. Sometime in late May 2001 the ownership group fell apart, although whether this timing was due directly to the exposure of Philip Subhan’s criminal schemes is unclear.
The Lightning shut down in mid-season on May 28, 2001. The team played only six of a scheduled sixteen games, losing all of them.
Philip Subhan was arrested and convicted on several counts of theft by unlawful taking, misapplication on entrusted property and financial facilitation of criminal activity. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, a verdict upheld on appeal in 2006.
The Indoor Professional Football League folded after the 2001 season.