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Monday, March 5
Updated: March 7, 1:44 PM ET
Four years of Club Fed anything but relaxing for McNall

By Greg Garber

The meals and an occasional bar of soap arrived through a slot in the door. Things most people take for granted -- sunlight, conversation, television -- were forbidden in solitary confinement. For 90 days, Bruce McNall's entire world was a cramped, windowless cell in the Lompoc, Calif., federal correction facility.

Later, he would be shackled chain-gang-style and moved to prisons in Safford, Ariz., Oklahoma City, Okla., and, finally, Milan, Mich. The uncommon criminal has trimmed tree branches, directed construction traffic at Vandenberg Air Force Base, typed and filed documents, driven a tractor and, most curiously, stacked sandbags to allow a rare species of frog to cross a busy road.

Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky once was the crown jewel in Bruce McNall's sports empire.
Once upon a time, McNall was the toast of Los Angeles, friend of the rich, famous and socially ambitious. His was truly the Midas touch, or so it seemed. He turned a coin collection into a $150 million fortune that included the Los Angeles Kings. He brought Wayne Gretzky to the Kings in 1988 and five years later the Great One delivered them to the Stanley Cup finals. He was the Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors.

He was, in short, a player of the highest magnitude in an exclusive and elite league. Was, as in the past tense, because four years ago this month McNall was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 70 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to two counts of bank fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. He had defrauded a number of financial institutions of $236 million and was in turn institutionalized himself.

McNall, 50, was transferred from the Milan facility, some 50 miles southwest of Detroit, to a Los Angeles-area halfway house on Wednesday, where he will be required to live for as long as six months. Good behavior, as it is known in the business of incarceration, brought him a term reduction of 13 months.

McNall is, by most accounts, a changed man. His belly, once as expansive as his network of executives, politicians and actors, is said to be lean. His fortune, too, is gone. McNall, who must serve an additional five years of probation, still owes $5 million in restitution to the banks. Given his classic alpha personality and the history of fallen financiers Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, those symbols of 1980's greed, how eager is McNall to rebuild his empire?

"Oh, no," said Robert Geringer, his Santa Monica, Calif., attorney. "I don't think he wants to. There's a priority shift that goes on. Family and friends have become more important. He had his success very young in life. Those kinds of people don't have the advantage of recognizing the things that are really important."

Geringer is an organized and circumspect fellow. He is also the gatekeeper for McNall, who may not speak to the media -- as much as he would like to -- as a provision of his sentence. As word of McNall's release has circulated in recent days, the phone calls have escalated.

After speaking with McNall by phone several times a week -- at times, several times in one day -- Geringer probably has as good a feel for McNall's state of mind as anyone.

"If you have talked to him on the phone, he is as upbeat as anyone you would ever want to meet," Geringer said. "The attitude is good, very good."

Halfway houses, by definition, represent a transition. After a settling-in period, McNall will begin the search for a job. With his obvious financial skills and a Rolodex full of possibilities, McNall should have no trouble finding gainful employment.

There is a chance, if things go well, that McNall will be released before October into home confinement. He is hoping to eventually settle in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. McNall has two children and two step-children.

According to Geringer, friends have not abandoned him. He has corresponded with many and received visitors as well. Gretzky has remained a loyal friend and supporter.

"Bruce has served his time," Gretzky, now the managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes, said Monday at the team's North Scottsdale, Ariz., practice facility. "He has put this all behind him. Now he is ready to move on."

On the way home, we just talked about Bruce and what we saw. Man, jail is no picnic.
Kings left winger Luc Robitaille after visiting McNall recently in federal prison
On Dec. 30, McNall's former team arrived in Detroit at 4 a.m. Six hours later, Kings stars Luc Robitaille and Rob Blake -- who was subsequently traded to the Colorado Avalanche -- were on their way to see McNall. It was a sobering experience.

"On the way home, we just talked about Bruce and what we saw," Robitaille, the Kings' flashy left winger, told the Los Angeles Daily News. "Man, jail is no picnic.

"He's an interesting man, a good man who certainly has admitted his mistakes. He is just looking forward for some quiet time with his family after all he's been through. This has been very hard on him. That is a tough place. It's not a camp like it has been made out to be. It's pretty grim just to visit."

Certainly, McNall has had his moments of catharsis. But his friends report that his acute sense of humor has not left him.

When Bob Miller, the television voice of the Kings for 28 years, received cards from McNall they all begin with "Greetings from Camp Paradise ..."

"I got a nice note from him after I was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame," Miller said Monday. "I think he's kept track of people. A few years ago, he wrote about a Christmas dinner they had. It was advertised as Cornish game hen, but he said he noticed a drastic decline in the pigeon population."

Technically, as long as McNall reports to the halfway house he still will be in the federal corrections system. He will work days and spend nights at the halfway house. There will be a curfew and he will not be allowed to leave the Los Angeles area. He will have broader visitation privileges and, according to Geringer, may attend hockey games.

"He's got to do something with his life," Geringer said. "He can't just not. He has always gotten a charge of doing business and networking.

"He's going to approach that with the same tenacity and enthusiasm," he said. "This, time, he'll have a little more restraint and a better game plan."

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