The Chicago Blackhawks have hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an “independent” investigation of sexual assault claims against a past coach who later became a convicted child sex offender, the team announced Monday.
The Blackhawks are turning to Chicago lawyer Reid Schar, who helped lead the federal prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and has been hired by Commonwealth Edison to handle its legal exposure in a federal bribery investigation.
Schar’s hiring was announced in an internal memo from team CEO Danny Wirtz.
He said the Jenner & Block lawyer would look into allegations in two newly filed lawsuits against the team that it failed to take appropriate action after a player accused former coach Brad Aldrich of sexual assault in 2010.
“We want to reiterate to you that we take the allegations described in these lawsuits very seriously. They in no way reflect this organization’s culture or values,” Wirtz said.
“Mr. Schar and his firm have significant experience conducting independent investigative reviews, have no previous ties to the Blackhawks organization, and have been directed to follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.
WBEZ was first to report on a lawsuit from an unidentified former player from the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning season, who alleged he and another player were sexually assaulted by Aldrich and that the team failed to take the complaints seriously.
The former player accused the team of placing blame on him for Aldrich’s alleged sexual misconduct, which involved masturbating in front of the player and threatening to “physically, financially and emotionally” harm the player if he “did not engage in sexual activity” with the coach.
“The Blackhawks are an organization very worried about its reputation, perception and history,” the player told WBEZ last week. “They have a proven track record of cover-ups, including this abuse.”
Also last week, Canadian-based TSN reported that the alleged assaults were an “open secret” in the Blackhawks organization, according to a source, a claim later supported on Twitter by former 2010 team player Brent Sopel.
“The front office staff should be in jail,” Sopel wrote in a Twitter post.
After leaving the Blackhawks, Aldrich went on to be convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a student in 2013, requiring that he be named on the state of Michigan’s sex offender registry.
Last week, WBEZ reported on a police report it obtained, in which the high school hockey player told police how Aldrich molested him. Aldrich then admitted to police that he had sexual contact with the student, and said he knew it was wrong because he was the player’s coach.
The report went on to detail how police had investigated several other alleged instances of unwanted sexual advances by Aldrich against men and at least two minors. No criminal charges arose from those other cases.
Chicago’s National Hockey League franchise is now the second Aldrich employer investigating his employment.
Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, told WBEZ it has hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to probe “improper conduct” by Aldrich during his tenure there between July and November 2012.
The Chicago plaintiff’s lawyer representing the former Chicago Blackhawk and the boy who was sexually assaulted by Aldrich — dubbed in court filings as “John Doe 1” and “John Doe 2” — embraced the team’s decision to hire Schar.
“John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 welcome the Blackhawks’ acknowledgment of the seriousness of this situation as well as their undertaking participation in the truth rather than defensively denying what happened,” attorney Susan Loggans told WBEZ. “Mr. Schar is a seasoned litigator and has the ability to conduct an appropriate investigation.”
Wirtz’s memo said the team would have no additional comment on the Aldrich matter.
“Out of respect for the ongoing legal proceedings and the independent review, we will refrain from further comment until each process has reached its respective conclusion,” he said. “We appreciate your trust and patience as we continue the review.”
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.