Wily Coyote

Team owner Ellman skates over financial inquiries

The Spike has tried for years to get Phoenix Coyotes owner Steve Ellman to return phone calls about his wily financial maneuvers that led to the needless destruction of the Los Arcos Mall in Scottsdale. Not to mention his subsequent hoodwinking of Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs to drain the city's coffers of $180 million to build the Coyotes an arena.

Ellman could never be bothered to pick up the phone -- until last week. That's when The Spike left a voice mail seeking comment about a $5 million loan from Arizona Republican Party kingpin Jack Londen, money that helped Ellman buy the Coyotes from pawnshop czar Richard Burke.

Within minutes, Ellman was on the horn trying to convince The Spike that the loan -- which was extended last winter -- was a personal matter and not worth reporting.

"We've reinvested the capital so it's not due. There's been a new deal done. There's nothing to report," Ellman insisted.

That's one view. But The Spike thinks a multimillion-dollar loan from one of the state's most influential political figures to the controversial owner of a sports franchise that has triggered political turmoil in both Scottsdale and Glendale is certainly worthy of mention.

Besides, there is nothing that bugs Ellman more than someone asking about the Coyotes finances. It shouldn't. Taxpayers are paying for the arena that will generate tens of millions of dollars in profits for his ownership group that has $170 million invested in the team and the arena development project.

Maybe he's antsy because he's leveraged to the hilt and his tenuous grip on the Coyotes could easily slip from his grasp?

So, The Spike asked Ellman, who are your partners, anyway?

"If I wanted to publish that list, I would," Ellman said, but threw out a smidgen of details.

He says he and trucking magnate Jerry Moyes control about 80 percent of the team. (The Spike bets Moyes controls the bulk of it, given that he recently advanced a $70 million loan to the team to pay off a bank note that had come due.)

Hockey god Wayne Gretzky has another 14 percent stake, and five other partners each control 1 percent shares. These minority partners, according to Ellman, include the Texas billionaire Hunt family.

"It's really not a big deal," Ellman says.

The Spike wonders what qualifies as a "big deal" for Ellman.

Ellman shifts the conversation to hockey. "Have you been to a White Out?" he asks, referring to a Coyotes home playoff hockey game. "Are you interested in any tickets for the White Out this coming week?"

Yow. The Spike reminds Ellman that The Spike is actually a reporter.

"Okay. Are you writing an article on us?" he asks.

Ellman says he's happy to talk about the arena's site plans, the groundbreaking and such fluff. But personal information about his family and financial details of the project are off limits.

"If you print good things, I can be a great source of information," he gushes. "Otherwise, I take your name out of my Rolodex."

Darn.

Jack Londen, meanwhile, proves to be a far more open source of information. He apparently has no tickets to offer, at least not to The Spike.

"I made the note with Ellman. He's going to pay it off in a little while. We are on very friendly terms with him," Londen says.

Londen says he has secure collateral -- which was "tightened up" when the loan was extended. He also has a stake in any profits Ellman generates at the arena and in the property at the razed Los Arcos Mall.

"Ellman," Londen says, "is our friend."

In fact, they are such good friends that Londen has invited Ellman to be on the board of directors of a new television station that debuted this week on Cox Channel 13 and will soon hit the airwaves on Channel 27.

Londen says his wife, former Republican Party chairwoman Dottie Londen, is chairman of the board of AZ-TV (its official call letters are KAZT). Londen Companies purchased Prescott-based KUSK on April 1 and is converting the station to a statewide broadcast group.

AZ-TV's programming is still evolving (does The Spike see hockey games in its future?) but will be heavy on talking heads, including hourlong shows featuring radio personalities Pat McMahon and David Leibowitz and Prescott pontificator and former mayor Sam Steiger.

"This will be the only locally owned, family-owned television station in the top 16 markets in America," London says.

The station's advisory board is a Who's Who of the Right Wing Establishment with such luminaries as former vice president Dan Quayle, former governor J. Fife Symington III (now a cooking school owner), soon-to-be-former Governor Jane Hull (The Spike keeps hearing she may soon be moving to Mexico) and Congressman Bob Stump (who still lives somewhere in west Phoenix).

Wow! Talk about politicizing the airwaves.

With such a lineup providing advice, it's not too surprising the station's shows will include all of The Spike's favorites -- Combat, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, My Three Sons and The Honeymooners, all throwbacks to the 1950s and '60s.

Stay tuned.

Campaign Confidential

Speaking of Glendale, the March city council election is still generating heartburn among some disgruntled politicos angry that favorite son Rod Williams (who has his hands full as a member of the state Tourism and Sports Authority) failed in his effort to unseat Councilman David Goulet.

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