The former manager of the U.S. Cellular Coliseum who’s accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bloomington taxpayers has filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that he’s owed $67,175 in unpaid commissions.
John Butler’s Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM) managed the city-owned arena from 2005 until March 31, 2016. Then in September 2017, Butler and four of his former employees were indicted on more than 100 criminal counts of theft, fraud, and money laundering. They’re accused of an elaborate scheme that skimmed off Coliseum concession fees, over-billed for cleaning supplies, and disguised other charges. Exact figures are not known; the charges indicate theft of around $1 million.
In the new lawsuit, Butler’s (through CIAM) claims the city owes his company for unpaid commissions related to sponsorships (advertising) and suite sales. CIAM was being paid a commission of between 5-10 percent on that revenue, but that stopped on March 31, 2016, the lawsuit claims.
CIAM signed sponsorship and suite deals with seven companies from 2011 to 2015, and those agreements remained in effect through March 31, 2016. That means the city still owes CIAM all the commission money earned from those deals in the 19 months since, even those CIAM doesn’t run the arena anymore, the lawsuit claims.
“CIAM has demanded these unpaid commissions, but the City refuses to pay them,” CIAM lawyer Marc Ansel said in the breach-of-contract lawsuit, filed Nov. 13 in McLean County court.
The city was quick to response to the lawsuit Tuesday.
“The City views this lawsuit as an attempt to distract from the 111 felony counts facing the previous managers of the Coliseum,” said spokesperson Nora Dukowitz. “The City will vigorously defend these new, baseless allegations by CIAM and is committed to fighting for the taxpayers in civil and criminal court.”
In the lawsuit, CIAM also implies that the city should not have alerted law enforcement in 2016 to possible irregularities related to arena finances. Those irregularities were uncovered by the arena’s new managers, VenuWorks, and ultimately led to the Illinois State Police investigation and the indictments. (The arena has since been renamed Grossinger Motors Arena.)
“The City was obligated to mediate and arbitrate this dispute” under the terms of CIAM’s management agreement, the lawsuit claims. “The City’s handling of this dispute constitutes a waiver of the alternate dispute resolution provisions” of the CIAM management agreement, permitting the new lawsuit, it claims.
The lawsuit is scheduled for a status hearing May 4.
The criminal case against Butler and the four other defendants remains pending.
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