Mike Jefferson was five years old when he informed his father that he would one day play professional hockey, a long-shot dream Stephen Jefferson was more than happy to help his son pursue. When Mike was a preschooler, Jefferson, who owns a catering and vending business in Brampton, Ont., would park his coffee truck for a few hours every morning and take Mike skating. Over the years he happily spent thousands of dollars and many a frostbitten hour indulging his boy's obsession. "If your sons are involved with sports, they don't have time to get into trouble," Jefferson said on Sunday. "Keep them busy, and they have a chance to contribute to society and not become a burden on the system."
He and his wife, Susan, were sitting at the kitchen table in their tidy Brampton home, fighting back tears as the irony of his words sank in: Their son, the 23-year-old Blues center now known as Mike Danton, was sitting in a California jail, charged with conspiring to hire a hit man. ( Danton is expected to plead not guilty.)
As of Monday authorities hadn't publicly identified the target of Danton's plot, but a source close to the FBI's investigation told SI that it was David Frost, Danton's longtime agent and mentor. At first Frost was thought to be an innocent victim. But investigators shifted their focus last week and are now looking into Frost's past behavior for motives for Danton's alleged plan.
They're finding an agent-player relationship that's highly unusual. A decade ago Jefferson essentially handed his son's hockey future to Frost, an intense, abrasive local coach with little to recommend him as a dream maker. Frost took Danton and a few other young Brampton players, including current Lightning minor leaguer Sheldon Keefe, under his wing and soon became a controversial figure in Ontario hockey circles. In 1995 he was banned by a Toronto youth league for forging signatures on player-release documents. Two years later he pleaded guilty to assault after punching a player on the Quinte Hawks, a junior team for which he was assistant coach.
He also developed a reputation as a Svengali on skates. In their early teens Danton and Keefe often ate meals and spent nights at Frost's house. They and at least two other players lived in a motel with Frost while the group was with Quinte. As the boys climbed the junior hockey ladder, Frost, who often guided their on-ice moves with hand signals from the stands when he wasn't their coach, kept them isolated from their families and teammates. ( Danton changed his name in 2002 and hasn't spoken to his parents in two years.) "I kept thinking Mike would gel away Iron) him when he got older," Jefferson says. "I turned a blind eye to everything."
According to a source close to the investigation, the Ontario Provincial Police investigated during the summer of 2001 claims that Frost abused a player at an Ontario cottage he used as a retreat for his group. No criminal charges were brought, but the investigation is ongoing. Frost, meanwhile, continued to keep close tabs on Danton after his prot�g� made the NHL. This year Frost, who did not return calls from SI, attended every Blues home game over the season's final six weeks. He hovered near the Blues' dressing room after games, and the two would even talk by cell-phone during pregame skates.
A source close to the investigation believes Danton may have felt the suffocating weight of the attention from Frost and snapped. Whatever the scenario, Stephen Jefferson sees his son as the victim. "Mike's just a puppet for Frost; he hasn't made a decision on his own since he was 15," Jefferson says. "It's almost lucky that he's in jail, because now Frost can't get to him."