Jack Johnson's financial troubles came to light in November, when the Columbus Dispatch revealed that the Blue Jackets defenseman had filed for bankruptcy after his parents—who had been in control of his money since 2008—created eight figures' worth of debt for him. But it wasn't just poor management: according to a source close to both Johnson and his family, his parents knew exactly what they were doing from the very beginning.
That person, who requested anonymity citing ongoing legal actions, claims that as early as Johnson's first full season in the NHL, his parents, Jack Sr. and Tina Johnson, were already trying to pocket as much of his rookie contract as possible. On Sept. 9, 2008, Johnson parted ways with veteran CAA agent Pat Brisson. Johnson's father had pushed him to fire Brisson, our source said, because he believed that the agent's fees were an unnecessary cost. "He deliberately wanted to eliminate any potential impediment to their bilking of his funds," the source told me. (Multiple requests for comment from Johnson's parents were not answered.)
Johnson then hired Alan Miller as his agent. Miller calls Johnson "a nice young man," but from the start, he says, there were red flags.
"He was extremely under the control of his parents," Miller told me by phone. Miller said that after he approached Johnson with his qualms over their involvement, Johnson's parents came into his office the next day and told him he was fired. Miller had been Johnson's agent for less than a year.
After splitting from Brisson and Miller, Johnson formally put his parents in charge of his money. On Jan. 8, 2011, Johnson signed a seven-year contract extension with the Kings worth $30.5 million. He called the negotiation process "kind of fun":
"It wasn't any burden at all. Go out and play hockey every night and try to play well and everything else will take care of itself."
A few weeks before Johnson signed that contract, he had signed over his power of attorney to Tina. Soon after the extension, Jack Sr. purchased a Ferrari F430 for himself (pictured in front) to match Jack Jr.'s California. The photo was posted on Johnson's younger brother's Facebook on Aug. 22:
As Aaron Portzline's Dispatch story reported, Johnson's parents found no shortage of ways to spend his money. They spent hundreds of thousands in upgrades for a house in California. They traveled in style around the country. They upgraded Tina's wedding ring to a six-carat diamond.
Even with millions coming in, though, Johnson's parents still sought more money to maintain their lifestyles. They signed up for multiple predatory loans with absurd and crippling interest rates as high as 12 percent. Below is one promissory note for one of the most recent loans, dated Jan. 21, 2014, and from RFF Family Partnership LP, with the borrower listed as "Team Johnson Investments, LLC."
It's an amendment of two earlier promissory notes, from the previous August and October, which were in the amounts of $175,000 and then $600,000. This one lent the Johnsons more than $1.86 million, and required that it be paid back, with three percent monthly interest, within 30 days.
(On Nov. 6, 2014, RFF filed an objection to Johnson's bankruptcy filing, alleging that Team Johnson still owed them money. The objection confirmed that this Jan. 21 loan was signed to pay off three existing debts, one of them to RFF, totaling more than $1.6 million.)
On the third page, the Johnsons essentially signed away Jack's NHL contract, giving the lenders permission to use his paychecks towards paying off the debt if needed. (By this point in time, as the Dispatch reported, Johnson was already having 25 percent of his Blue Jackets paychecks garnished to pay off another loan.) The contract is also listed as collateral, on the fourth page, along with Jack's and his father's Ferraris. On the eighth page, Jack's name is signed with a signature that doesn't appear to match his authenticated autographs. The space for his mother's signature is left blank.
Per RFF's filing in Johnson's bankruptcy case, Team Johnson made a single payment of $25,000 on the $1,862,500 loan.
The creditors were on all sides merely predatory lenders. Former agent Alan Miller says that when Johnson hired him, he owed CAA and Brisson more than $62,000 that he couldn't pay. According to Miller, he negotiated that amount down to $59,403.19, then cut Johnson a check so he could settle his debt with CAA. That check can be seen as an exhibit in the document below.
According to a lawsuit Miller filed against Johnson in Oakland (Mich.) District Court in 2010, Johnson agreed to repay the full amount, at seven percent annual interest, within six months. The complaint alleges that Johnson never paid Miller at all.
Miller filed for a dismissal of his suit on May 24, 2010; he says he and Johnson negotiated a settlement, the terms of which he won't discuss.
According to the person close to Johnson, Jack was oblivious all along to his disappearing money and mortgaged contract. His parents told him all their big purchases were bought with an inheritance from a recently deceased relative, and Johnson, the source says, had no reason to disbelieve them.
"There were a few people trying to track him down, he would confront his parents, and they would tell him to focus on hockey," the person said. "Typically, they dismissed the people as con artists who were just trying to shake him down. Some of those interactions were happening as long as a year ago. But he had no idea it was a real problem until the spring [of 2014]."
The cover stories started to fall apart when Johnson got engaged to Kelly Quinn, sister of NFL quarterback Brady Quinn. Johnson attempted to move toward being financially independent in anticipation of starting a family, according to our source, but his parents "tried to slow down the engagement, advising Jack not to act so soon."
The Dispatch reported that Johnson confronted his parents in May of last year. Soon after, he hired his own attorneys and financial advisers, who set into motion the painful and lengthy process of cleaning up the mess of debt he had accrued.
Johnson filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 7, and hasn't spoken to his parents since. He claimed assets totaling less than $50,000, and debts in excess of $10 million. According to our source, just before Johnson filed, his parents attempted to convince him to take one more loan to keep his head above water.