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NHL vet defends alleged hockey scammer on witness stand

Sergei Gonchar called Tommy Constantine — on trial for fraud, conspiracy and money laundering — a friend, while blaming Phil Kenner for his money woes.Graham Hughes/AP

Sergei Gonchar called Tommy Constantine — on trial for fraud, conspiracy and money laundering — a friend, while blaming Phil Kenner for his money woes.

CENTRAL ISLIP, L.I. Not every professional hockey player who invested with Tommy Constantine and Phil Kenner wants to put the two alleged con men into the federal penalty box for a long, long time.

A parade of hockey stars including Joe Juneau, Michael Peca and Bryan Berard has already testified that Constantine and Kenner had squandered millions of dollars the players thought they were investing in real estate deals and other business ventures.

But on Wednesday, NHL veteran Sergei Gonchar took the witness stand at the Alfonse M. D’Amato United States Courthouse to defend Constantine.

Gonchar called Constantine, on trial with Kenner on fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges, a friend who tried to help him sort out financial and legal problems that cropped up as a result of his investments with Kenner.

“I trusted him,” Gonchar told Contantine’s attorney Robert LaRusso under direct examination.

However, Gonchar later looked shaken after Assistant United States Attorney Saritha Komatireddy showed him bank records that indicated Constantine didn’t have his best interests at heart.

The documents showed that in 2005, Kenner had taken $ 375,000 from a line of credit the former financial adviser said he established on the hockey players’ behalf in order to finance a real estate project in Hawaii. A few days later, Kenner wired $ 330,000 to his former wingman’s consulting firm.

“We never discussed money going from the Hawaii real estate deal to Constantine Management Group,” Gonchar said.

Gonchar, however, continued to express loyalty to Constantine. Prosecutors say Gonchar’s trusted friend and Kenner stole millions of dollars from the NHL players and other investors who thought their money would be used to develop real estate projects in Hawaii, Mexico and elsewhere; instead, the feds say, the defendants used the money to pay for their lavish lifestyles, seed pet business projects and pay off mounting legal bills and court judgments.

When the players asked questions about their investments, they were told that their money was gone because Kenner had loaned $ 5.5 million to a golf resort developer named Ken Jowdy, who refused to pay the money back. Kenner and Constantine convinced the players to contribute $ 250,000 to a “Global Settlement Fund” they said would be used to mount a legal battle against the developer. The government claims the two alleged scam artists blew that money, too.

Gonchar, who spent the past NHL season with the Montreal Canadiens, said he ultimately contributed more than $ 1 million to the GSF, and he had given Constantine permission to use money from the fund for purposes unrelated to the legal war against Jowdy.

Under questioning from LaRusso, Gonchar testified that Kenner told NHL players and other investors in Constantine’s prepaid credit card company that his by then-estranged partner was running the company into the ground. At a meeting in New York, the group agreed to file litigation against Constantine and take over the firm.

Gonchar said he not only wanted no part of the coup, but he called Constantine on his cell phone so Constantine could eavesdrop on the meeting.

“He was telling us to go after Mr. Constantine because he was not doing the right thing,” Gonchar said. “I knew it was not true so I decided to not participate in the lawsuit.”

Gonchar also testified that he didn’t remember signing papers that made him and Kenner the personal guarantors for a loan to buy a Falcon 10 aircraft. The plane had been had been purchased to fly potential clients to Mexico to visit two Baja development sites, and the lending bank came after Gonchar after Kenner claimed Jowdy had stopped making payments on the plane.

Gonchar testified that Constantine helped him get free of the obligation to the bank.

But Komatireddy suggested that came at a cost to the other players because Constantine used money from the Global Settlement Fund to pay off the loan money that was supposed to be used to battle Jowdy.

“Do you consider yourself a victim?” Komatireddy asked.

“Yes,” Gonchar replied.

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