Tuesday, December 5, 2023

D.C. attorney general sues Washington Commanders and NFL over alleged secret deal to deceive fans

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Team co-owners Dan and Tanya Snyder pose for a photo with current team members and alumni during the announcement of the Washington Football Team’s name change to the Washington Commanders at FedExField on February 02, 2022 in Landover, Maryland.

Rob Carr | Getty Images

The attorney general of Washington, D.C., on Thursday sued the Commanders and owner Dan Snyder, as well as the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, for allegedly deceiving D.C. residents about the team’s alleged toxic culture for its own financial gain.

Attorney General Karl Racine alleges the team and its owner lied to the district’s residents about allegations of the team’s toxic culture and sexual harassment, in order to keep the truth from D.C. residents and protect profits.

Racine said Thursday the NFL and Goodell worked with Snyder and the Commanders in misleading the public about a probe into the allegations and the toxic culture the organization maintained over the years.

“The Commanders and the NFL secretly entered into an agreement about the investigation that the public didn’t know about,” Racine said, pointing to evidence gathered by his office during its yearlong investigation.

Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, and the Commanders have been the subject of recent investigations by both the House Oversight Committee and the NFL for sexual harassment and financial misconduct. 

“Over two years ago, Dan and Tanya Snyder acknowledged that an unacceptable workplace culture had existed within their organization for several years and they have apologized many times for allowing that to happen,” a spokesperson for the Commanders said in a statement. “We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth. Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction.”

Attorneys on behalf of Racine’s office said part of their concerns regarding the NFL and Goodell’s conduct include when the NFL gave Snyder a debt waiver in 2021 that allowed him to buy out minority owners, giving him full control of the franchise during the time of the investigation.

“We’re bringing this matter as a civil matter in a court of law with a fair process for the defendants so that the public might have a sense of accountability,” Racine said Thursday.

As for the monetary penalties the Commanders, Snyder, NFL and Goodell could face, Racine also noted that under the Consumer Protection Act each violation has a maximum fine of $5,000, and that the total “racks up pretty easy and exponentially,” equating to potentially millions of dollars.

The attorney general is also seeking a court order that would release the findings from the 10-month investigation led by attorney Beth Wilkinson into the Commanders’ workplace culture. News reports of misconduct in 2020 had triggered this investigation.

The NFL responded in a statement Thursday:

“The independent investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders was thoroughly and comprehensively conducted by Beth Wilkinson and her law firm. Following the completion of the investigation, the NFL made public a summary of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings and imposed a record-setting fine against the club and its ownership. We reject the legally unsound and factually baseless allegations made today by the D.C. Attorney General against the NFL and Commissioner Goodell and will vigorously defend against those claims.”

The attorney general’s office also alleges Snyder worked to intimidate and pay off potential witnesses during the course of the investigation, according to attorneys.

The NFL’s review is being led by former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White. The league has said White is still in the midst of her review. On Thursday, Racine said he wasn’t aware of where White’s investigation stood.

The probe into alleged financial improprieties has sparked various other investigations. 

The Commanders and Snyder have previously denied allegations of misconduct.

Shortly after the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, the Virginia attorney general and Racine opened up investigations into the team, too. 

ESPN reported last week the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia opened a criminal investigation into the financial misconduct allegations against the Commanders.

Snyder recently put the team up for sale, hiring Bank of America to help facilitate the potential transaction, CNBC previously reported. The deal could value the Commanders at as much as $7 billion. The NFL has said any deal would have to go through its finance committee and would need to win approval of 24 of the NFL’s 32 teams.

Amazon founder and multibillionaire Jeff Bezos and rapper and music industry giant Jay-Z are reportedly interested in bidding on the team

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