Calgary Stampeders

Larry Ryckman


Welcome to the reinvention of Larry Ryckman - Jamie Komarnicki - Calgary Herald - 31-10-2010

In the early 1990s, the savvy whiz kid was the toast of Calgary. One of his companies, Archer Communications Inc., which developed three-dimensional sound technology known as QSound, signed high-profile recording artists such as Madonna and Sting.

Under Ryckman's hand, the company went from 50 cents a share to its peak of $27.50 in 1990. In turn, he became a millionaire.

Ryckman, well-known in the community for his audacious documentary in which he infiltrated a neo-Nazi camp in Idaho, reportedly amassed a fortune trading stock in the company.

His celebrity soared when he scooped up the cash-strapped Calgary Stampeders in 1992, rescuing a once-proud community-owned team.

"Larry . . . was in the limelight," says Stan Schwartz, who was the senior executive of McMahon Stadium during those years,

"The football club was his pride and joy."

Ryckman quickly signed superstar quarterback Doug Flutie and in November 1992, they won a Grey Cup.

"Larry Ryckman was one of those owners who was very dynamic, flamboyant and really cared about his team," says Larry Smith, CFL commissioner at the time.

As the charming sports impresario scored wins on the gridiron, he was regarded as the saviour of the Stampeders, Smith adds.

Yet, Ryckman's "unpredictable nature" caused a few headaches for league officials, says Smith, now CEO of the Montreal Alouettes.

Off the field, Ryckman's business defeats soon began to outnumber his victories.

Stock market regulators began investigating the Stampeders boss over claims he duped investors in one of his companies, Westgroup, by artificially inflating the value of shares through a series of trades.

In 1996, after a drawn out investigation, the Alberta Securities Commission ruled Ryckman ran a stock manipulation scheme that was "deliberate, pervasive, well-planned and contrived."

The commission ordered Ryckman to pay about $500,000 to cover the cost of the Westgroup probe. It also slapped him with an 18-year-trading ban in Alberta, Ontario and B.C.

ATB Financial, Alberta's provincially owned bank, meanwhile, claimed Ryckman defaulted on an $8.6-million loan, though he still disputes the amount that was owed. Regardless, Ryckman Financial Corp. was placed into receivership.

Perhaps nothing symbolized the downfall more than his relationship with the Stamps' star player.

Flutie complained his $1-million personal-services contract was caught in the financial upheaval. He left the Stamps for the Argos that season, claiming his old football club owed him $833,000.

"(Ryckman) put on a facade all season that everything is under control,'' Flutie told reporters at the time. "He sent me one cheque just before the playoffs, then turned around and put a stop payment on it."

Caught up in the financial scrapes and investigations, Ryckman's reputation soured. He says he spent a year in Calgary to "clean up the mess," then left the city -- paying a reported $13,000 of the ASC fine.

Thirteen years later, in Scottsdale, Ryckman recalls the fall from grace as a particularly painful period in his life.
"Confused, angry, beat up, reflective," he says of the time.

"I was so surprised that I allowed it, that I was so blind to allow the disintegration of a lot of what I had built, my public perception. I used to have people come up to me and say, 'You're Calgary royalty.' I had bumper stickers, 'Larry Ryckman for Mayor,' " he says.

"I didn't realize those things are ultimately destructive."

In 1997, Ryckman settled in Scottsdale, a quiet, well-to-do community where he and his wife raised their three children.

Property records show his wife owns a 7,800-square-foot home inside a gated community, with a pool and four-car garage, all assessed at $1.4 million.

After his departure from Canada, the high-volume businessman seemingly shifted into low gear.

According to Ryckman, he spent time dabbling in investments and helping junior companies, but says his focus was on spending time with his family.

In 2003, he voluntarily surrendered to police at Calgary International Airport for a court appearance on two counts of fraud. The Mounties had accused him of stock manipulation in one of his companies, Aabbax International Financial Corp.

Those charges were dropped in March, 2006, when the court imposed a $75,000 fine under the Alberta Securities Act, after he admitted to engaging in a prohibited stock options transaction.

Ryckman's lingering Calgary woes were over.

Today, Ryckman has his own dark theories as to why he abruptly faced so many troubles in the mid-1990s.

The former Stamps owner alleges he angered powerful Albertans in his fight over public lottery funds for the football team -- a notion Blakey, the former ASC director of enforcement, dismisses.

"The opposite was true when I was on the commission," Blakey says.

"It was difficult to pursue Larry. You had to be careful you had a firm case if Larry was involved in any wrongdoing because of his profile.

"In Larry's case, there wasn't any doubt the commission had a very serious case."

Ultimately, Ryckman says he's learned some hard lesson from the Calgary experience, but still feels he got a raw deal.

"I made many mistakes as a young businessman, but not the mistakes that I was ultimately accused of," he says, between sips of a martini.

"I learned very, very quickly to curb the ego and rebuild my life in a more private way."

The high-profile entertainment business beckoned.

In 2004, Ryckman got back in touch with some contacts from the heyday of Q-Sound and worked his way into new Hollywood circles.

He says his new business, MyStudio, was bolstered by several "strategic partnerships."

Former U.S. Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. now serves as chairman of the board of the parent company, Studio One, and a team of well-known audio engineers is also part of the firm, Ryckman says.

However, it's a small fish trying to make it big in a huge Hollywood pond.