Having been in prison for more than three years, Bruce McNall has been transferred to a federal correctional institution in Milan, Mich., about 50 miles southwest of Detroit. He will observe his 50th birthday there Saturday, on the same day hockey's Los Angeles Kings, one of the many valuable properties McNall once owned, happen to be in Detroit for a playoff game.
No longer ensconced in Lompoc's minimum-security facility in central California--where on March 10, 1997, he began a 5-year, 10-month sentence for bank fraud and conspiracy--McNall has been moved a number of times over the past two months, including stays at prisons in Arizona and Oklahoma.
Prior to that, McNall spent 171 days in what inmates call "the hole" at a Lompoc medium-security prison, across the road from the less stringent camp where he had been for two years. He was confined to a 12-by-14-foot cell with several other prisoners, with no television or telephone privileges, rarely permitted a glimpse of the sun.
This was a far cry from the life McNall led in 1993, when his personal fortune was reported as $133,018,496. He owned seven homes, nine cars, a 727 jet, a helicopter, rare coins, thoroughbred racehorses, a professional football team and a hockey team that played for the National Hockey League's championship, with the likes of Ronald and Nancy Reagan seated rinkside.
Today a man who once sybaritically enjoyed the best of everything in California is behind bars in frigid Michigan, where even in April, ice hockey could be played outdoors.
On Aug. 9, 1988, Bruce McNall was popping a champagne cork. He had just made a trade to bring Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, to Los Angeles.
On Aug. 9, 1998, McNall spent time reflecting on the 10th anniversary of that huge deal he'd swung. Then he went to work at his new day job--chasing red-legged frogs.
He was spending 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a few minutes' ride from Lompoc's prison complex. Inmates were given various duties to perform, and McNall had done many. He spent a year as a warehouse clerk, cut tree limbs, operated a small "bobcat" tractor, passed out tools to Vandenberg's airmen and directed construction traffic around a crane.
Then he was given a new task. A rare species of red-legged frog had taken up residence in a pond near the air base. McNall, four other prisoners and a number of Vandenberg's men stacked 1,500 sandbags along a road, impeding access to a marsh so that the endangered frogs would not become road kill.
Once upon a time, McNall had outbid Aristotle Onassis for a coin, produced Hollywood films, presided over hockey's board of governors and persuaded Disney's Michael Eisner to run a team. Now he was laboring on a prison frog gang.
But at least the work was agreeable. It was still a con's life, with comings and goings monitored and shakedowns by guards for contraband possible at any hour. Fresh air was plentiful, though, and McNall wiled away a lot of hours playing pinochle or exercising to lose weight. His 95-year-old grandmother made a Christmas visit from Virginia and was relieved that Lompoc was no Shawshank. A cook bent rules by baking Bruce a birthday cake.
And then McNall was deemed to have broken house rules himself--abusing phone privileges, for one. He was moved in February 1999 to a much stricter Lompoc pen, where McNall says he was told he'd be transferred to a place where he had a lesser "sphere of influence."
For close to six months, according to McNall, he was confined with others in a windowless cell. Food and soap were passed through a slit in the door.
Finally his transfer came. McNall says a 10-hour bus ride took him to a women's prison in Northern California for a single night. At 4 a.m., he was shackled, driven back to Lompoc, then 12 hours more to a high-security Phoenix facility where he spent a week. Then came a short stretch in Safford, Ariz., followed by four weeks in Oklahoma City.
McNall late last month was finally moved to Michigan, to what his attorney, Robert Geringer, says "we hope will be his last stop within the federal system."
He won't be going to Detroit to see any hockey. But one thing did make McNall happy--the owner of Detroit's team quickly made inquiries about coming to see him.
Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.