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Dean Johnson Attempts to Invest in Soccer Teams Despite $1 Million in Debts

2010 November 29
by Brian Quarstad

Dean Johnson (back-left) and WingField partner Henk Habbers (back-right) address a small group of Thunder supporters in September of 2007 when they were announced as the new owners of the Minnesota Thunder. Two years later Johnson disappeared, leaving $1 million in debts behind him and a 20-year Thunder soccer franchise in ruin.

Uncle Sam or Saint Nicholas are not exactly names that former vendors and employees of Dean Johnson would use to describe the St. Paul, MN native who owned the Minnesota Thunder from the late summer of 2007 until they folded in the fall of 2009. In fact those names would likely be the polar opposite of what they would call Johnson after he walked away from the team that had a 20-year history. Johnson, who has lived in Belgium the last 16 years, left the team, his employees and many vendors high and dry, owing debts in excess of $1 million dollars. But Uncle Sam and Saint Nicholas are exactly the terms some Belgium news sources and Royal Football Club de Liège Chairman Jules Dethier are calling Johnson.

Johnson, a Belgium-based real estate developer, is suddenly promising to become a major investor in a Belgium 3rd Division club FC Liège despite his current debt that he seems to have no intention of repaying.

“Dean is a little like Saint Nicolas or Father Noel,” said Dethier in a recent article.

FC Liège is a team that just 20 years ago played in European Cup competitions against the likes of Juventus and Benfica. These days the club is fighting to avoid relegation to Division 4. They’ve been struggling to meet their financial obligations for months and are looking for an infusion of cash.

The team lost their grounds 15 years ago, which used to be one of the biggest and oldest in Belgium. It’s now replaced by a giant movie complex. Since then the nation’s third oldest club has rented others’ stadiums.

Enter Dean Johnson. The WingField real estate developer approached the cash-strapped club about injecting capital into the organization. What capital, you ask? That seems to be a very valid question for an individual who still owes so much money. The teams website says he has a three-point plan for the club. Those three points might sound all too familiar to former Thunder fans and employees.

1) Improve the team (to help them out of Division 3).
2) Strengthen the club’s youth academy.
3) Build a new stadium, a sports complex and other real estate development including a 5-star hotel in the city of Liège.

The talks have gone so far that FC Liège’s chairman introduced Johnson to the team last week and a meeting is set  for the middle of December for the club’s board to decide whether to accept Johnson’s offer. “An agreement between the parties should be concluded by mid-December,” stated the FC Liège website.

However, it is possible this involvement would never be approved by FIFA, the worldwide governing body of football. According to United Soccer Leagues (USL) President Tim Holt, Johnson was reported to the USSF. IMS believes those reports would have to be disclosed to FIFA in US Soccer’s monthly report to the Federation.

“The Minnesota Thunder USL professional soccer franchise rights owned by Dean Johnson through his WingField Corporation were terminated by USL after the 2009 season,” Holt told IMS on Monday. “In addition to a substantial unpaid balance to USL, there were/are numerous players, staff, and vendors that have reported to USL also being owed money by Mr. Johnson and his ownership group.  We reported the circumstances of the team’s departure under Mr. Johnson’s ownership to the US Soccer Federation in late 2009.”

Indeed Johnson did leave many employees on the hook for thousands of dollars. Not just in lost wages but thousands of dollars from their own personal accounts that Johnson promised to pay back but never did.

IMS was contacted by numerous vendors looking for Johnson in the fall and winter of 2009/2010. He never officially announced the folding of his team and never declared bankruptcy leaving each employee and vendor on their own to try to contact Johnson and recover their money.  No creditors have ever reported getting reimbursed by the WingField owner, including his own employees who fronted tens of thousands of dollars to Johnson and his team.

Even more shocking, this isn’t Johnson’s first attempt at getting control of another soccer team without first paying off his debts. Johnson brazenly approached the National Sports Center about purchasing the NSC Stars after he learned the non-profit was looking for investors and/or a buyer for the team. According to a source within the NSC, Johnson approached the team but the conversations never went further than phone calls.

The NSC, who had stated previously that Johnson owed them nearly $100,000, released a statement this afternoon concerning the situation:

“Several weeks ago, Dean Johnson contacted the NSC and expressed an interest in purchasing the NSC Minnesota Stars. The NSC informed Johnson that he would need to settle the considerable unpaid bills and financial obligations in Minnesota before the NSC would consider a sale.

“Subsequently, Dean Johnson did not pay his unpaid bills in Minnesota. The NSC ended all discussions.

“Recently, the NSC learned that Dean Johnson is planning to invest in a pro soccer team in Belgium. NSC officials are assuming that FIFA, Belgium and U.S. Soccer Federations will require Dean Johnson to satisfy his financial obligations in Minnesota before he is permitted to purchase or invest in a team in a different country.”

In one of the many articles published about Johnson’s reported rescue of FC Liège, he was asked, “You must be a little crazy to launch out in such an adventure.”  Johnson laughs and says, “Your question is relevant, but I won’t be able to answer that for a few weeks.”

For the many individuals whom Johnson still owes significant amounts of money, they won’t need anywhere near that amount of time to answer that same question.

22 Responses
  1. Dave DuJour permalink
    November 30, 2010

    I like that the first two Google hits are this site Brian!

  2. Travis P permalink
    November 30, 2010

    This is almost as good as the April Fools day post.

  3. November 30, 2010

    Wow. Just wow.

    Those poor Belgians…Somebody who speaks French needs to warn them that Dean is a pathological liar, an incredibly oily salesman, and is completely full of s***.

    Very hopeful the powers that be put the kibosh on this whole joke of a deal. Or that if he really does have money (very doubtful) that everybodyhere in MN gets repaid and made whole.

  4. Chris A. permalink
    November 30, 2010

    @Travis: I have nothing to do with this story. My fictional creations need only to *seem* real. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Although I hear that FC Liège is looking for a friendly with the court-ordered Thunder . . .

  5. Trevor permalink
    November 30, 2010

    I’m currently living in Belgium, and my fiance is fluent in French. I’m looking for the supporters websites now. If they have a trust, they should move to block this sale, no matter how desperate they are.
    Maybe a club with 20 years under its built wasn’t enough for Johnson; maybe he needs to bury one of the oldest clubs in the low countries.

  6. thesuperrookie permalink
    November 30, 2010

    *head hits keyboard*

  7. November 30, 2010

    Arrogant much?

  8. smatthew permalink
    November 30, 2010

    Unbelievable.

  9. yankiboy permalink
    November 30, 2010

    So, if I RIP this clown here again on IMS is the Mighty Mighty BQ going to diplomatically reprimand me like he did the last time?

    What was the word that I used last time and retracted after BQ appealed to my kinder, gentler nature??? I think that it was “charlatan”.

    Ok. So what are the french words for “rock”, “crawl”, “under”, “shameless” and “snake”?

    Where is a Francophone or a fan du L’Impact du Montréal when I really need one???

    [And I am telling you all right now-No retractions will be forthcoming...]

  10. tomASS permalink
    November 30, 2010

    two words for FC Liège – DUE DILIGENCE

  11. November 30, 2010

    I’m sure there are a number of people around here who would be interested in knowing where Mr. Johnson might be served process….

  12. November 30, 2010

    Not sure which is more shocking…Barca 5 Real 0 or Dean John$on’s continued efforts to live in a land of fiction. The only thing impressive is the size of his balls for calling NSC…An effort from our end of the world to aid the poor Belgian supporters of Liege is more than necessary.

    Campaign Title: “Show Dean Johnson the Red Card”

    JL

  13. November 30, 2010

    Maybe FC Liège will come over and play in the 2011 Copa Minnesota.

  14. thesuperrookie permalink
    November 30, 2010

    Joe with the comment of the year.

  15. thesuperrookie permalink
    November 30, 2010

    Who is this Rookie dude?

    ;)

  16. fotbalist permalink
    November 30, 2010

    I’m with JL on this one. I sure hope FIFA has a system to hold guys like him responsible.

  17. Kevin permalink
    November 30, 2010

    Don’t count on FIFA. I hope that FC Liege don’t get conned by an guy like this. It was bad enough seeing Portsmouth go through what they did this year.

  18. Dave DuJour permalink
    November 30, 2010

    Are people actually expecting FIFA to not be the corrupt, self serving organization that it is and to hold someone accountable for their actions? Really? I’m not holding my breath on any intervention from FIFA. I suspect this deal will happen or not based on what the team’s current owners & interested parties find out about Mr. Johnson.

    I hope the folks at the NSC had a good laugh around the office that phone call. Personally I would have been hard pressed not to have laughed at Dean while on the phone, but then I’m not always the most politically sensitive person out there.

  19. Anonymous permalink
    November 30, 2010

    A horrible insult from him to those of us who are STILL climbing out of the rubble left in his wake.

  20. GumbyGrrl permalink
    December 1, 2010

    I don’t speak French, but I emailed the President of FC Liège anyway. Someone needs to tell him. I don’t know if he’ll get the message, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
    The email is available on the FC Liège website: http://www.fcliege.be/, on the Infos Club page.
    (http://www.fcliege.be/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=5&Itemid=6 ) Président: Jules Dethier: jules.dethier@skynet.be
    I wish them luck.

  21. thesuperrookie permalink
    December 1, 2010

    Perhaps Dean can translate the email into Flemish for us?

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