AMSTERDAM — The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, created by Tony Vellano in downtown Schenectady in 2002 and a popular destination for more than 10 years in Amsterdam, is experiencing some legal and financial issues.
Located in Wichita Falls, Texas, since January 2016, the facility is being sued by a local television station and a caterer, and is also under investigation by Wichita Falls police. Vellano is no longer officially connected to the Hall of Fame, but he remains closely identified with the place.
"I am devastated, and I am heart-broken," Vellano said last week. "I haven't had any contact with them in quite a while now — maybe a few emails that I sent — but I've been watching for the past 18 months, and I didn't like the way they were handling things. I like to call the Hall of Fame my little flower that I planted in a small pot. Amsterdam was becoming too small a pot, so I thought that moving it to Texas, where they love professional wrestling, would be a great idea and it would grow. I guess I was wrong."
The website Texomashomepage.com reported in October that the Hall of Fame was under investigation by Wichita Falls police after numerous board members announced they were leaving their posts. On Nov. 6, the Wichita Falls Times Record reported that the Hall of Fame was being sued by Nexstar Broadcasting Inc., and by Regional Image Booster Service Inc., for breach of contract. The television station and RIBS had contracted with the Hall of Fame for its 16th annual Hall of Fame Induction Banquet but were never paid for their services.
The suit, filed in the 89th District Court of Wichita County, alleges that "KFDX and PWHF entered into an agreement wherein PWHF agreed to purchase advertising from KFDX and KFDX agreed to provide advertising to PWHF. KFDX agreed to provide, and did provide, valuable materials and/or services to PWHF. PWHF accepted these materials and/or services and knew KFDX expected compensation for said materials and/or services."
Regional Image Booster Services, a non-profit entity that provides meals to individuals or organizations, alleges that its group was contacted by "an authorized representative of PWHF to provide a meal to approximately 450 people. RIBS agreed to provide said meal and notified PWHF of the costs associated with said meal. An authorized representative of PWHF entered into a written agreement regarding providing said meal. PWHF was aware that RIBS expected payment for said services and/or materials pursuant to the plain language of the agreement."
The suit goes on to say that "despite RIBS performance and demand for payment PWHF has failed to tender payment."
On Aug. 24, a group of board members filed a complaint with Wichita Falls police and then resigned from the board. Their statement said "financial concerns had arisen by board members who had inadvertently found on Aug. 24 that the account was significantly overdrawn."
The statement went on to say that "a review of bank statements revealed a pattern of a significant amount of expenses that appeared questionable," and that the expenses had "absolutely no correlation with the daily operational aspects of the PWHF nor its mission as outlined or specifically defined in its bylaws."
PWHF President Johnny Mantell told Texomashomepage.com in October that his organization "has had internal issues, and we are in the middle of working out our internal problems. We will continue to do what we've done from day one and partner with the community to provide wrestling to Wichita Falls."
In response to the Nov. 6 article in the Times Record, a new board of directors at the Hall of Fame issued the following statement: "The PWHF has recognized, addressed and properly resolved every difficulty it has encountered. This episode has been embarrassing, to say the least, and will obviously have an adverse impact on our ability to raise funds, at least for a while."
Wichita Falls Public Information Officer Sgt. Harold McClure confirmed Tuesday that a police investigation into the Hall of Fame's finances was ongoing, but he would not comment further.
"As far as I know, the police investigation isn't complete yet," said Vellano, a lifelong Schenectady native. "Then, this new lawsuit is the latest event that's added to the investigation."
Vellano, who is still a member of the board of the Professional Boxing Hall of Fame in Cazenovia, said he won't get over this experience soon.
"I put my heart and soul into this venture 16 years ago," he said. "The Hall of Fame was bringing thousands of people to Amsterdam. But it was a lot of hard work, and I thought that moving it to Wichita Falls would be like a breath of fresh air. I went there, I talked to the Chamber of Commerce. Wichita Falls was a great place to have it. I don't know what happened, but they really didn't want any help from me. They just wanted to take the ball from me and run with it. It's so disappointing to me."
In 2001, Vellano held an introductory event at Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia to announce the formation of the PWHF as a 501(c)(3) non-profit group. He opened it on Broadway in downtown Schenectady in 2002, where it remained for three years before it was moved to Amsterdam.
In November 2015, Vellano announced that the Hall of Fame would be moving to Wichita Falls.
"We're moving there because it's just a better fit," Vellano told The Daily Gazette in 2015. "It's a bigger city, and they just have a lot more to offer, and it was very affordable."
The PWHF is at 712 8th St. in downtown Wichita Falls. It is open Wednesdays through Sundays this time of year.