- The Washington Times
Thursday, November 17, 2022

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed another consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders on Thursday, accusing the team of “implementing an illegal scheme to cheat District ticket holders out of their deposits for season tickets and use the money for its own purposes.”

The eight-page complaint alleges the team sought to withhold refundable security deposits from season-ticket holders, and comes a week after Racine sued the team, Dan Snyder, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell in a court action that accuses the men and their organizations of mishandling allegations of workplace misconduct within the franchise in violation of the District’s consumer protection law.

Racine’s office alleges the Commanders repaid some of the money owed to consumers, but as of March 2022, there remains  $200,000 outstanding in unreturned deposits to District residents. The suit says the Commanders also “forfeited thousands of dollars” in deposits and converted that money into revenue for the team.

“(Thursday’s) announcement … is yet another example of egregious mismanagement and illegal conduct by Commanders executives who seem determined to lie, cheat, and steal from District residents in as many ways as possible,” Racine said in a statement. “The Commanders’ arrogance and blatant disregard for the law is a slap in the face to District residents who have supported the team for decades.

“We deserve better, and today my office is taking action yet again to hold them accountable.”

This is now the second suit that the Commanders face from Racine, who is leaving office in January as he did not seek re-election. 

A Commanders spokesperson said in a statement that the team has not collected security deposits for more than 20 years in the case of premium tickets and more than a decade in the case of suites, adding it began sending refunds as early as 2004.

“In 2014, as part of a comprehensive review, Team management was instructed to send notices to over 1,400 customers with deposits and return all security deposits requested,” the spokesperson said. “Further, the team engaged an outside law firm and forensic auditors to conduct an extensive review of the team’s accounts which found no evidence that the team intentionally withheld security deposits that should have been returned to customers or that the team improperly converted any unclaimed deposits to revenue.”

The franchise’s practice of collecting security deposits for premium seating and promising returns within 30 days of the contract’s expiration actually began in 1996 — three years before Snyder bought the team.

The complaint said that the team “capitalized on the fact that at the end of a long-term contract, many consumers simply forgot that they had ever paid a security deposit.” And the team, the lawsuit says, “complicated the process by imposing extra, burdensome conditions” for consumers requesting their deposit back.

The lawsuit followed a yearlong investigation into the team. Allegations that the team committed financial improprieties first surfaced in the spring when former Washington sales executive Jason Friedman testified to members of Congress that the team intentionally withheld security deposit, among other misconduct.

After Friedman’s testimony, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the House Democrat leading the congressional investigation into the Commanders, alerted the Federal Trade Commission and attorney generals in the District, Virginia and Maryland of the team’s potential “unlawful” conduct.  

Racine’s office confirmed at the time that they were looking into the allegations, as did Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares.

ESPN reported earlier this month that the U.S. attorney general’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia has also launched a criminal investigation regarding whether the Commanders committed financial improprieties.

The Commanders strongly denied Friedman’s allegations at the time, accusing him of being a disgruntled former employee who sought to discredit the team after team president Jason Wright rebuffed repeated efforts from Friedman to get his job back.

Racine’s lawsuit also comes as Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, declared the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s investigation into Snyder to be “over” in wake of Republicans set to take over the House following the midterm elections.

Outside counsel for the Commanders praised the decision for the probe to be dropped, with attorneys John Brownlee and Stuart Nash saying in a statement that they applaud Comer for “his leadership in putting an end to the investigation into a private company, which has been correctly characterized by sitting members of Congress as a ‘farce’ and an ‘abuse of power.’”

But until the House switches control in January, House Democrats still have time to put out a report from their investigation. The Democrat-led Oversight committee, which declined to comment, interviewed Snyder for more than 10 hours in a July deposition, but has not released a transcript or a report of what he said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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