Why the NFL Fined Dan Snyder $60M Ahead of Washington Commanders Sale

The NFL released the findings from its investigation into owner Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders. As expected, they don't look good.

The NFL has released the findings from its investigation into owner Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders. Mary Jo White, the lead investigator, was hired by the NFL to look into allegations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety. The report can be found here.

The NFL levied a $60 million fine for Snyder. The distinction between Snyder and the Commanders is important because it means that Josh Harris’ group does not take on the fine after having purchased the team.

Of course, that purchase itself means that Snyder will receive over $6 billion, meaning he has been fined one percent of the sale price of the team.

Mary Jo White’s Investigation Only Covered 2 of Many Allegations Directed Against Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders

The investigation did not cover any of the allegations explored by Beth Wilkinson and her team in an investigation they concluded in July 2021. That report was not released to the public but found that Snyder had fomented a toxic workplace environment, where sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation were the norm. Snyder was fined $10 million after the release of that report.

The Wilkinson report remains unavailable to the public, a fact that some members of Congress find reprehensible and part of a larger pattern of the league abetting the Commanders’ behavior.

The allegations that White investigated in detail were former Washington cheerleader Tiffani Johnston’s claim of harassment, allegations that the Commanders and Snyder omitted ticket sales revenue from reports that were sent to the league, and allegations that the Commanders illegally retained security deposits from customers in connection with leases for club and suite seats.

She also investigated an alleged incident where an unedited photo of Johnston’s “personal areas” from a calendar photo shoot were improperly obtained and shared between Snyder and a former senior executive with the team.

White’s team found Johnston’s claim of harassment and Friedman’s claim of deliberate underreporting to be valid but did not find enough evidence to corroborate the claims about the security deposits or the calendar photoshoot. White also found, over the course of the investigation, a number of alarming transactions and accounting entries that could point to additional revenue shielded from the NFL.

The investigation reviewed over 10,000 documents, interviewed dozens of witnesses multiple times, and took on the assistance of a team of forensic accountants, according to the NFL.

Dan Snyder and the Commanders Were Uncooperative With the Investigation

Throughout the investigation, White’s team found that the Commanders and Snyder failed to cooperate with the process. Indeed, in the report, White states that “At every turn, the Club and Mr. Snyder have complained about the burden and cost of searching for and producing materials responsive to our requests.”

They added, “The Club unilaterally decided what documents they would produce and did not ultimately produce the requested documents most critical to determining the bona fides of the vast majority of the transfers and transactions identified by the Investigation as potential efforts by the Club to improperly shield VTS revenues.”

They also pointed out that Snyder’s team seemingly attempted to overwhelm the investigation with irrelevant witnesses, including the family tutor. They also furnished witnesses meant to speak to Snyder’s character, which did not advance the investigation.

Investigation Found Overwhelming Evidence for Financial Fraud

The evidence against Snyder on the issue of improperly reported ticket sales was extensive. The uncooperative nature of the Commanders meant that the investigation “was not able to determine the precise amount of underreported revenues” but concluded that it was “clear” that Washington intentionally underreported shareable revenue in violation of the league’s rules.

The Commanders often reclassified revenue from NFL events as those coming from concerts or non-NFL games, like soccer games or college football games. The investigation concluded that Snyder knowingly participated in this scheme and pressured sales, ticketing, and finance employees to participate.

One email from 2010, according to the investigation, revealed the fact that employees at the highest level were aware of the scheme. In that email, an employee emailed the CEO about allocating NFL revenue to reported revenue from a college game with the line “[i]f the NFL had a jail … we would be in it.”

Washington Commanders

Other emails include phrases like “maximize revenue, break the rules if you need to,” and “do as much as you can, but don’t get caught.”

The Commanders participated in the practice of keeping an additional set of books, according to White’s investigation. That second set of books was used to report revenue and undercut the amount eligible for the Visiting Team’s Share, or VTS.

Forensic accounting uncovered other illegal activity, including falsely undervaluing the price of individual tickets, falsely undervaluing sponsorships, reporting amenities revenue on the wrong date to connect them to different events, moving sponsorship money to different events, and reclassifying some ticket sales as ineligible under certain categories of tickets.

Snyder Committed Sexual Harassment

With regard to the harassment allegations, the investigation interviewed Johnston several times and found her testimony to be consistent, specific, and credible on its own merits. They judged that evidence as strong by itself but also found corroborating evidence that backed up Johnston’s claims.

Among those pieces of evidence are statements from at least four witnesses who described events in the same way as Johnston did in her interviews. They confirmed related events in the testimony, including which witnesses attended the event, which restaurant the event was held at, and the details of Snyder’s public interactions with Johnston.

The two qualifying instances of sexual harassment are unwanted touching at the dinner — Snyder is alleged to have put his hand on her thigh — and Snyder’s alleged insistence, accompanied by physical force, to have Johnston ride back home in his car instead of the car she drove to the event.

Johnston claims to have heard someone telling Snyder, “Dan, Dan this is a bad idea. As your attorney, do not do this.”

At least one witness described Johnston as having spun out of his grasp at the end of the interaction. Neither of Snyder’s drivers recalled the incident.

As for the photo incident, the investigation found that a senior executive improperly acquired a photo of Johnston from the photoshoot that had yet to be edited to accommodate her privacy. The executive was told he could not have the photo by the photo editing staff and later took the photo during the staff’s lunch break.

The investigation, however, could not determine that Snyder had knowledge or involvement in the photoshoot incident.

This report only dealt with two of the allegations against Snyder, but there are others that include allegations of financial impropriety, harassment, fostering a toxic workplace, intimidation of witnesses, trafficking, sexual assault, and negligent mismanagement.

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