Mike Danton, formerly of the St. Louis Blues, pleaded guilty in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill, to conspiracy to commit interstate murder for hire, ending a bizarre plot that had led to speculation of a sexual relationship between the player and his intended male victim.
"By pleading guilty, Danton, 23, avoids prison time in excess of 10 years and the possibility of additional charges, which had been threatened by prosecutors as the case progressed since his arrest in California on April 16," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said. "Under the likeliest scenario, Danton will serve between 87 and 108 months in prison. He hopes to serve most of it in his native country of Canada under an international prisoner transfer program, if approved by prison officials."
The name of the intended victim was not disclosed during Friday's plea. But prosecutors have said previously in open court that his agent David Frost was the man Danton wanted killed. Frost has consistently denied he was the target. Danton's alleged accomplice Katie Wolfmeyer, 19, is still awaiting trial, set for September. Danton is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 22. (Read complete details of the alleged plot in the FBI complaint).
Danton's plea ends one of the stranger cases to hit sports in recent years. It prompted speculation that Danton and his intended victim were gay lovers; included a hit man, Justin Jones, a Columbia, Ill., a police dispatcher who helped the FBI secretly tape Danton and Wolfmeyer plotting; featured Danton estranged family life; and centered on Frost, Danton's junior hockey coach described as a Svengali. Frost's checkered career garnered as much attention as did the charge against Danton.
The true nature of Danton's relationship to Frost might now never be known. Here is my best guess on the part of the case most of interest to our readers:
Is Danton Gay?
The short answer: Who Knows? Danton hasn't said either way and Frost denies this is the case. "It's the FBI's fault for leaving that (gay) idea open and they have apologized," Frost said this spring. "Mike is going to sue every media outlet that said he was gay. Nothing could be further from the truth."
There is no doubt that Frost and Danton have a close relationship (Frost either shared or was a frequent guest at Danton's St. Louis apartment), though that closeness does not mean they were lovers; it might be more akin to that of a controlling authority figure and a confused kid. Based on the details of their long involvement, a sexual relationship (consensual or not) between Danton and Frost is still plausible.
Frost has been called a monster, a master manipulator, cult figure, intelligent, cunning, nurturing, ambitious and a control freak who had unusually close and seemingly inappropriate relationships with some of the players he coached in Canada's junior hockey circuit, especially Danton. This led some in the media to see Danton in a somewhat sympathetic light.
"Personally, I wanted to pity Danton. I wanted to believe that he was a good kid lured into a bad situation. I wanted to believe he was a needy, gullible, vulnerable kid that latched onto a manipulator," wrote Jeff Gordon of the Post-Dispatch. "I wanted to believe he was a victim, not a criminal. As a parent of two teenagers, I shuddered at the news accounts and hoped for a happier ending. I wanted Danton to get help, not a long prison term. ...
"But Danton went to the courthouse Friday and took the fall. He owned up to one of the most idiotic, implausible, ill-fated criminal plots of all time."
In the end, I believe what I wrote when the case first broke: A plea was likely to prevent the most sordid details of the case from coming to light at a trial. Danton's lawyer said at the hearing on Friday that his client pleaded guilty to "put all this behind him." Danton will take his secrets to his prison cell in Canada, the only goal he has achieved on or off the ice in a long time.