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Super Agent Schaffer Hits Thin Ice in Colorado Youth Hockey Melee

On May 2, in the crowded conference room of a suburban Denver sports complex, a vote was held to elect the new board of directors of the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association. CAHA, the state’s USA Hockey affiliate, oversees roughly 9,500 youth players—about 372 of whom compete nationally in the elite Tier 1 Level—and operates with a budget around $600,000.

By appearances, it is a fairly typical youth sports organization. But this was not a typical youth sports organization meeting. CAHA had for months been in the midst of a fierce fight over its operations, a brawl that involved, to varying degrees, hockey’s national governing body, a combative sports super agent, a former NFL salary-cap guru and the charity arm of the Colorado Avalanche.

The board election had been a long time coming; the previous one was held in 2019, a lag which, according to USA Hockey, constituted a breach of its affiliate agreement. CAHA had similarly been behind schedule in filing its annual tax returns and was barred from making charitable solicitations in Colorado, since its state registration expired last April. 

Based on these and other concerns, the proceedings were being overseen by delegates of a specially tasked USA Hockey oversight committee.

When the votes were tallied at the end of the evening, CAHA’s executive board, including its longtime president Randy Kanai, were ousted, bringing to a close a particularly chaotic chapter in the contemporary history of the 41-year-old governing body. At the center of its recent controversies has been Peter Schaffer, a well-known sports agent whose long list of clients has included NFL legend Barry Sanders. In a much lesser-known role, Schaffer has served as CAHA’s volunteer general counsel for about a decade.

With scrutiny of CAHA mounting in recent months, Schaffer took to aggressively defending the previous regime, employing tactics that have since been called out by USA Hockey. The national governing body previously noted some of the same “governance and operational issues” with its affiliate during a site visit in 2021. The concerns were spurred anew last year by one of CAHA’s members, the Littleton, Co.-based Aces Hockey Academy, whose owner, Brooke Wilfley, commenced a series of requests for the association’s financial records and board minutes. 

This March, Wilfley hired a Denver-based accounting firm, RubinBrown, which produced an analysis that found numerous reporting inconsistencies in the association’s books, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in irregularities, and evidence of possible undisclosed conflicts of interests involving a company Kanai owned.

In addition, RubinBrown’s report called into question how CAHA was accounting for the million-plus dollars in revenue it had generated over the last several years through a 50/50 charity raffle it ran in conjunction with the philanthropic arm of the Colorado Avalanche’s parent company, Kroenke Sports.

Kanai, in a phone interview, panned RubinBrown’s findings as “misleading,” insisting that there had been “no misuse of funds” nor “funds unaccounted for” at CAHA under his reign. However, when asked about specific accounting issues raised by RubinBrown, Kanai repeatedly pleaded ignorance and directed questions to CAHA treasurer Shawn Tanaka, who did not respond to an email seeking comment.

USA Hockey, after receiving a copy of the report last month, announced that it would retain a separate accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of CAHA. Kanai assured Sportico that it was “not going to turn up anything,” dismissing it as just a “routine audit” that had already been planned.

However, forensic audits are often done to investigate whether financial misconduct has occurred and a USA Hockey spokesperson confirmed that it was engaging in the process on account of “reports made about CAHA’s operations.” 

USA Hockey also called out a counter-investigation Schaffer launched on behalf of CAHA’s executive board following Wilfey’s requests for the association’s documents. That included a demand that Wilfey turn over her electronic devices to a third-party CAHA planned to retain to determine whether she had made any defamatory comments about its executive board members.

Wilfley’s attorney, Reid Page, accused Schaffer of retaliating against his client, who had previously sought whistleblower protections. In a letter to CAHA and Jorgenson, Page said Schaffer was attempting to “harass and intimate Aces … from asking completely appropriate questions and to request basic records and information.”

In an interview, Schaffer expressed umbrage at the charge.

“I will never be part of harassing anybody,” he told Sportico. “That is slander against my name.”

But when asked what legal or other authority he was operating under when requesting Wilfey’s records and electronic devices, Schaffer—an active member of the Colorado Bar—appeared stumped.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We were just looking for the information.”

A media fixture, Schaffer once wrote a regular guest op-ed for the Washington Post sports section and was later a featured subject in the Esquire Network docu-series, The Agent.

He currently owns the Denver-based athlete agency, Authentic Athletix, which touts itself as conforming to the “highest level of integrity.” Through his day job, he has become no stranger to managing controversy, having represented the likes of former NFL player Adam “Pacman” Jones and current Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon, both of whom have had repeated run-ins with the law.

Yet in the case of CAHA, Schaffer—and his aggressive, bare-knuckled tactics—have added to CAHA’s problems, while raising questions about why a high-powered NFL agent was being so zealous over a kids hockey program.

By his telling, Schaffer is doing it all for the right reasons.

“I think it is important in this world to give back to organizations and entities and sports and activities that have been good to you,” Schaffer said, by way of explaining his pro bono work for CAHA. “I am the only person [involved] who derives no revenue from hockey. Everybody else who is involved has conflicts, which is natural, because most of them are working for teams and organizations.” 

Schaffer says he first got involved with helping the association back when his son was playing amateur youth hockey. In 2012, Schaffer served on an appellate board that ruled on a dispute involving the Texas Amatuer Hockey Association and one its members, which was fighting over its Tier 1 status.

When asked about the storm over CAHA’s immediate past regime, Schaffer, obliquely referring to Wilfley, suggested the deeper problem was with programs vying to compete in USA Hockey’s elite level. Before she began making document requests, Wilfley had gotten crosswise with the executive board last year during her efforts to gain CAHA sanctioning for a new Tier 1 hockey program she started.

“Part of the f—ed-up thing of youth hockey is 90% of my time is spent on 5%of the players,” Schaffer said. “All of these crazy, f—ed-up parents think their kids are going to the show, so they all want them to play Tier 1.”

On Jan. 23, Schaffer sent Wilfey a “notice of spoliation and investigation,” following her requests for CAHA’s documents. He explained that the executive committee had tasked him to probe “alleged libelous and slanderous statement(s).” Spoliation notices are typically sent by opposing counsel to potential defendants in anticipation of a civil lawsuit, wherein a request is made to preserve evidence that would be relevant in the case.

While stipulating that “this matter is only an investigation,” Schaffer’s notice demanded, within three weeks, a voluminous amount of communications sent by Wilfey to any member of the media or “hockey community,” in which she discussed CAHA, the Colorado Avalanche, Kroenke Sports Enterprises or Kroenke’s charitable arm. Wilfley’s lawyer later wrote to CAHA’s board as well as USA Hockey, contending that Schaffer’s actions amounted to retaliation against a whistleblower. 

In a letter sent to CAHA on Feb. 14, USA Hockey’s Jorgenson objected to the method of and premise behind Schaffer’s document requests of the Aces, and instructed CAHA to immediately cease any disciplinary actions it planned to take against the club.

“Without any supported basis for those allegations, or any authority cited to support CAHA’s request for documents, we do not see any legitimate basis for CAHA to commence disciplinary procedures against a party that does not comply with CAHA’s demands,” Jorgenson wrote.

“We strongly felt that this was an attempt to intimidate us,” Wilfley said in an email. “We were incredibly grateful to USA Hockey for their intervention and support in this matter.”

Pressed by Sportico about his spoliation notice, which was printed on letterhead proclaiming, “Peter J. Schaffer, Attorney at Law,” Schaffer became audibly upset, accusing a reporter of attempting to do a “hatchet job” on him.

With CAHA hoping to clear the air after the RubinBrown report, Schaffer had enlisted the help of Mike Sullivan, the Denver Broncos former director of football administration, to conduct a financial review of the association. 

Sullivan was an unorthodox choice for the task, given that his accounting license had long ago lapsed, and he hadn’t, by his own admission, conducted a financial audit in decades. Schaffer says CAHA originally tried to hire a couple of active CPAs to do the work for free, but with Tax Day then just around the corner, he found no takers.

“That left us to look for someone who would be qualified, who was available,” Schaffer said.

In a March 29 email to the board of directors, Kanai said Sullivan’s review would be done “without influence, input or guidance from any CAHA (executive committee) members in order to be fully transparent and without any bias.”

Introducing himself as a “retired CPA and attorney,” Sullivan presented his findings in a 15-minute oral presentation he gave to the board prior to the May 2 vote. In his remarks, he praised Schaffer as a rare paragon of virtue in the agent business.

“I was very impressed with Peter,” Sullivan told the gathering, “because he was very straightforward, which, if you know, if you’ve dealt with agents, is not one of their common attributes—honesty and integrity, and I really respected Peter for that.”

Then again, Sullivan added, he wanted nobody to “get the wrong idea” that his friendship with Schaffer had colored his view of CAHA’s financial operations.

Sullivan, who did not respond to a LinkedIn message seeking comment, explained his process of doing a line-item review of five years of CAHA’s bank accounts in coordination with association treasurer Shawn Tanaka. He conceded that this work was far less rigorous than the kind of forensic audit USA Hockey commissioned.

Nevertheless, he spoke assuredly about the association’s financial operations.

“The bottom line is the organization has grown over five years,” Sullivan told the gathering of several dozen attendees. “I saw absolutely, absolutely nothing that suggests to me that any money that has come in went to anyone inappropriate.”

Schaffer similarly vouched for the previous regime to Sportico, saying he witnessed no examples of Kanai’s or other directors’ personal interests “influenc(ing) any decision” that the executive board made.

But the RubinBrown report commissioned by Wilfley suggested differently.

On March 23, the firm produced its written analysis on the financial records CAHA provided to the Aces, raising a number of red flags about the organization’s basic accounting steps and “discrepancies measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The analysis noted that, for example on Aug. 31, 2022, CAHA’s cash flow statement was $191,470 lower than the amount reported on its balance sheet, when both financial reports should match. The report identified multiple “abnormal deposit transactions,” such as three ATM deposits made into CAHA’s operations account on Aug. 16, 2022, which totaled $461,000. 

“Based on the records provided, we are unable to determine where these funds came from, why these CAHA funds were not received directly by CAHA, or why these CAHA funds were being held outside of CAHA’s operating accounts,” RubinBrown wrote.

Furthermore, the financial documents revealed transactions between CAHA and a business owned by Kanai, International Sports Event Management—a potential conflict of interest that CAHA had not disclosed on its annual tax returns. These activities included a $15,000 check written to International Sports Event Management in October 2020;  a $38,800 payment to Rocky Mountain Sport Testing, a trade name for Kanai’s business, in July 2020; and four payments totaling almost $54,000 to COHockey, another trade name, between June and August 2021.

In an interview, Kanai said he could not “recall” any other payments made to his businesses besides the one to Rocky Mountain Sport Testing, which he insisted was appropriate.

Additionally, the report added, CAHA was potentially obscuring other payments it had made by, in certain circumstances, netting its expenses against “pass through income,” such as with Rocky Mountain Sport Testing. “There was no pass-through money I am aware of that went to Rocky Mountain sport testing,” Kanai said.

One of the biggest red flags the RubinBrown report waved was over the accounting of charitable monies CAHA earned through its partnership with the Colorado Avalanche.

In 2013, Kroenke Sports Charities and CAHA launched its joint 50/50 raffle, which raised over $30,000 in its first month. Early on, the Colorado Secretary of State hailed the venture, which had to navigate various regulatory challenges, as a “success story.” From 2018 to 2020, according to CAHA’s tax returns, the total gaming income from the raffle topped $1 million. 

But RubinBrown identified large discrepancies in CAHA’s financial reports with the share of the 50/50 raffles that reportedly went to Kroenke Sports Charities.

“As far as I know, everything they expected was donated to Kroenke Sports Charities,” said Kanai. “Whatever Kroenke did I have no idea.”

A spokesperson for Kroenke declined to comment.

Wilfley says she has spent close to $100,000 over the last year between restructuring her Tier 1 programs to conform to CAHA’s requests, as well as the accountant and attorney fees related to her whistleblower efforts.

“I feel that the vote by the Board was hopeful and positive,” Wilfley said, noting that some in attendance drove more than five hours to be there. “I believe this coming together of the hockey community was an amazing showing of how many really amazing people care about the youth athletes and want to see positive change in Colorado.”

The change will evidently include Schaffer. Last week, CAHA’s newly installed executive committee told the full board that it will retain new outside counsel, ending Schaffer’s tenure. Brian Smith, who replaced Kanai as board president, declined to comment about the decision.

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