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Ex-NHL'er Juneau is first witness in NHL scammers trial

Joe Juneau is first witness to testify. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Joe Juneau is first witness to testify. 

CENTRAL ISLIP, L.I. — Former NHL player Joe Juneau, the government’s first witness in the sprawling fraud trial of two men accused of scamming millions of dollars from NHL players, told jurors Monday that it was around 2006 when he began to realize his college roommate — the best man at his wedding — had swindled him.

Prosecutors says Juneau was one of the first victims of his former teammate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Phil Kenner, the man the 13-year NHL veteran entrusted with millions of dollars before he retired from hockey in 2005.

“It became evident that a lot of money I had invested toward the end of my hockey career was lost,” said Juneau in his Quebec-inflected English.

“I became very uncomfortable with things, because it became very hard to reach him, to speak to him,” said Juneau, who received informal emails from Kenner instead of monthly or quarterly statements outlining his assets and earnings.

Kenner, a former licensed financial adviser who described himself as a “lifestyle coach,” faces nine felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering in a trial that began Monday at the Alfonse M. D’Amato United States Courthouse. His longtime business associate, Tommy Constantine, was indicted on seven counts.

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It didn’t take long for fireworks to erupt in the trial, where Kenner and Constantine stand accused of conning a dozen or more current and former pro hockey players out of millions of dollars.

Kenner’s attorney, Richard Haley, found himself on the defensive even before he could finish his opening statement after U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco halted Haley’s statement and sent the jury out of the room, then upbraided Haley for a “completely improper” comment Haley made about the government’s case.

Describing government investigators’ six-year road to the current charges against Kenner and Constantine, Haley told jurors that a Manhattan federal grand jury in 2009 didn’t return an indictment — a line that Bianco said would confuse the jury by implying that the 2009 grand jury had rejected the case. (In fact, the case was moved from the Southern District of New York to the Eastern District in 2012, and the first indictment followed in late 2013.)

“What made you think that was proper to put before the jury?” an angry Bianco asked, once the jurors were excused.

Haley began to explain himself but Bianco cut him off.

Phil Kenner stands accused of misusing funds, costing several NHL players millions.HANDOUT

Phil Kenner stands accused of misusing funds, costing several NHL players millions.

“You will not refer at this juncture to prior versions of this indictment,” Bianco said.

“He has really just screwed, pardon the expression, the record, your honor,” said assistant U.S. Attorney James Miskiewicz, who asked for a mistrial, which Bianco denied.

Haley and Constantine’s lawyer, Robert LaRusso, cast their clients as the true victims in the case: Both said the players lost their money because golf course developer and Kenner’s one-time partner, Ken Jowdy, refused to pay back more than $ 5 million of the hockey players’ money Kenner had loaned him. The course, Diamante Cabo San Lucas, looms large in the case.

“For all the allegations of fraud, we would not be here if a fellow by the name of Ken Jowdy had made good on the loan,” Haley said. (According to a lawsuit Kenner filed in 2008 in Arizona state court, Kenner made similar claims that Jowdy failed to repay loans Kenner said he made to Jowdy. However, when Jowdy had the case removed to federal court in Arizona, and alleged that Kenner had forged promissory notes and attempted to change his state residency from Arizona to Nevada to keep the case out of the federal court, Kenner failed to produce discovery ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton, who then dismissed the case. “The court has been told of an alleged forgery and a false claim of Nevada citizenship,” Bolton wrote in her opinion. “Plaintiffs’ failures to respond also lend credence to the claims of forgery and false claim of Nevada citizenship.”)

Both defense lawyers suggested that Jowdy encouraged friends in the FBI to investigate Kenner and Constantine and at one point La Russo said 10 retired FBI agents work for Jowdy at Diamante. (Jowdy has said that one retired agent works as a security officer for the development). The lawyers also said FBI agent Matt Galioto, who led the probe, turned a blind eye to evidence that would clear their clients.

Kenner and Constantine are also pointing fingers at each other: Haley claimed Constantine stole money the duo raised for a fund to try to wrest control of Diamante from Jowdy. LaRusso, meanwhile, said Constantine was charged because of his proximity to the longstanding legal feud between Kenner and Jowdy, and renewed his effort to have the case split so that his client could be tried separately. Bianco denied that request, as he has done repeatedly.

On the witness stand, Juneau described how Kenner moved between several financial services firms before starting his own company in 2003. When Juneau retired in 2005 and needed his money, he testified, Kenner became evasive and vague, offering confusing and contradictory explanations of the state of Juneau’s portfolio.

Soon Kenner was pressuring his old friend to sign papers extending a line of credit that Juneau said he had never understood — extending a $ 100,000 deal to $ 750,000.

Juneau said he didn’t recognize the handwriting on a bank document reflecting a $ 500,000 loan extension in his name (the signature was his, he said, but not the money total.) The government said it plans to call a forgery expert to the stand.

Delivering the prosecution’s opening statement was assistant U.S. Attorney Saritha Komatireddy, who told jurors that Kenner and Constantine “systematically stole more than $ 10 million” by misdirecting investor funds toward “their own lavish lifestyle,” including a tequila company in Mexico and an auto racing team affiliated with Playboy. 

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tommy constantine

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