BLOOMINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service has filed a lien against the owners of the PrairieThunder hockey team, whose lease with the U.S. Cellular Coliseum expires after the playoffs end.

The lien, filed Tuesday against BMI Hockey LLC and its lead owner Tim Leighton in the McLean County recorder’s office, claims team owners have not paid $23,104 in quarterly payroll taxes for the period ending June 30, 2010.

Meanwhile, the team’s five-year lease with the city-owned Coliseum expires after postseason play that begins Saturday in Bloomington.

Central Illinois Arena Management President John Butler said Wednesday that PrairieThunder owners did not exercise the option in their lease to make CIAM first negotiate a new lease with the PrairieThunder.

“It gives us the ability to shop and see what is out there,” Butler said. “They are welcome to offer a proposal, but legally this unties our hands so we can look.”

Butler said the hockey team is current on its bills to CIAM and the Coliseum. As part of CIAM’s 10-year deal with the city to operate the Coliseum, CIAM must have a professional hockey team and an indoor football team as anchor tenants.

Leighton’s office referred comment to PrairieThunder General Manager Jim Riggs, who said he did not know about the lien or conditions of the lease.

“I’m not aware of these issues,” Riggs said. “I am trying to get a team ready for a hockey playoff game.”

This is the first year in the team’s five-year history that it is headed to the playoffs. The PrairieThunder will face Fort Wayne on Saturday at the Coliseum. Calls to Central Hockey League officials were not returned Wednesday.

The payroll taxes were due before Riggs started as the team’s general manager on July 22, 2010.

IRS spokeswoman Sue Hales would not comment on the lien or whether team owners owed the IRS payroll taxes for any other quarters.

An IRS lien gives the agency legal claim to a person or corporation’s possessions, according to the IRS’ collection process booklet. Liens are filed with a county agency, making it a public record to notify creditors.

The IRS lien follows an incident last weekend when Leighton and team co-owner Paula Hardy got into an argument outside the locker room and traded shoves. They have formally accused each other of battery, although no legal charges have been filed by the prosecutor’s office.

Despite the conflicts, Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton said he is not ready to give up on the PrairieThunder.

“The issues with the PriairieThunder revolve around ownership issues and they are trying to work those out,” Stockton said. “Assuming those issues are resolved there is still time to move forward and remedy these issues.”

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