Pocklington in slammer

MICHELLE THOMPSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

The FBI swooped into an upscale California community yesterday to cuff former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter (Puck) Pocklington, a controversial figure now up on fraud charges.

He remains behind bars pending a court appearance tomorrow.

"They came in and arrested him," said Eileen Pocklington, his mother, who was sleeping inside her son's Palm Desert home when 10 gun-toting agents busted through the doors about 8 a.m.

"I was surprised. I was here for a holiday. And this was terrible."

The elderly woman arrived in the California community, about 25 km east of Palm Springs, the previous night from her Vancouver Island home.

Pocklington, 67, stands accused of making false bankruptcy statements under oath.

He appeared yesterday in court in jeans and handcuffs, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Pocklington was ordered held behind bars in Riverside, Calif.

He returns to court tomorrow in the community south of Los Angeles, at which time prosecutors plan to argue he stay behind bars until his May 5 trial.

"He is a foreign national and certainly would pose a flight risk," Thom Mrozek of the United States Attorney's office in Los Angeles said in an interview.

"Also as we continue to investigate we have reasons to believe he may have assets - nothing we can prove right now - but he may have assets offshore.

"So we want to make sure that he remains in the United States to make his court appearances."

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

Pocklington does not have U.S. citizenship.

He filed for bankruptcy last August, claiming to have debts of about $19.6 million - coupled with just $2,900 in assets.

Long before being jailed, Pocklington made enemies in Edmonton for trading Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings in 1988.

Pocklington was forced to sell the Oilers a decade later after defaulting on a $10-million payment to the Alberta Treasury Branches.

News of his arrest in the ritzy Lakes community was greeted with relative apathy yesterday, said a Palm Desert reporter working the story.

"They're all a bit mystified by the whole thing," said K. Kaufmann with the Desert Sun paper.

"People know Wayne Gretzky. But Peter Pocklington? I don't think anyone would have heard of him."

Burton Radoff, general manager of the Lakes Country Club, was familiar with Pocklington's name. But he said he wasn't aware the famed former Edmontonian had been living in the Lakes area.

Pocklington didn't own a house in the gated community and was thought to have rented a home there.

"Chances are if he was in bankruptcy, he wouldn't be living here as a member," said Radoff, adding that one must own property at Lakes to gain club membership.

"I would consider it an upscale community."

This is hardly Pocklington's first brush with the law.

At Christmastime last year, the Alberta government joined a lawsuit in U.S. bankruptcy court against Pocklington. The complaint calls him a "professional con man" who owes $12 million to provincial taxpayers.


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