TORONTO – A Mississauga, Ont., man is facing a fraud charge after scores of Canadian hockey players dreaming of being scouted by European teams were left devastated and humiliated when a hockey showcase they were promised turned out to be “one big disaster.”
About 100 players between the ages of 16 and 21 paid about $2,800 each for the opportunity and were allegedly told they might land spots on European hockey teams if scouts liked what they saw during a tournament.
But when they arrived in Colmar, France, in August there were no international teams, no scouts and no tournament.
Police in Peel region, west of Toronto, arrested Randy Gumbley, 42, on Thursday and charged him with one count of defrauding the public.
The allegations against him have not been proven in court.
Gumbley, who police allege ran a business known as Ontario Central Scouting under the alias Frances Poirier, was to make a court appearance Thursday in Brampton, Ont.
Gumbley was sentenced last month to one month of house arrest and one year of probation after pleading guilty in July to one count of fraud over $5,000 for defrauding a young hockey player and his family.
Police began that investigation after receiving complaints from parents, who claimed they paid money into a non-existent hockey program.
Parents of the players who went to France were furious when their children returned home empty-handed and dejected.
“Deep down inside it broke their spirits, really,” said Carol Golow in Flamborough, Ont. Her 19-year-old son Ryan Golow went on the trip.
Cathy Steenhoek’s 21-year-old son Matthew Steenhoek was “absolutely devastated” because he was led to believe there was a genuine opportunity for him to play in Europe, she said.
Steenhoek called Thursday’s charge “bittersweet.”
“It’s just too bad the damage has already been done for the kids.”
John Rigutto is one of a few parents who allege Gumbley promised their son not only a chance to play in a tournament in front of professional scouts, but was told a team was offering him a contract to play in France.
The man they knew as Frances Poirier detailed how much money their son would make, what the living arrangements would be and many other details, Rigutto said.
“It got down to the nitty gritty,” he said.
Rigutto and his wife accompanied their son Steven Rigutto on the trip so they could help finalize his supposed contract, but when they arrived: “Everything blew up,” he said.
“When we got to the arena there was nothing. Nothing at all. It was just one big disaster.”
Rigutto’s son was humiliated when he returned to Canada after telling friends and family months in advance about the exciting deal he had been offered in France.
“When he came back here he was embarrassed,” Rigutto said. “He didn’t want to go out. He didn’t want to play hockey. He didn’t want to do anything.”
Golow, who used some inheritance money from Ryan’s grandmother to pay for what they thought was a dream opportunity, was pleased to hear a charge had been laid. She said her son is still playing hockey, but it’s not quite the same.
“He’s still active, he’s still having fun, but his dream is gone,” she said.
An explanation had earlier been offered by Ontario Central Scouting’s head coach and director of hockey operations – that the event was cancelled after the International Ice Hockey Association and French Ice Hockey Federation banned their own teams from participating.