RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is launching the latest probe into whether the Washington Commanders mishandled money.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly is considering using significant taxpayer resources to convince the team to relocate to Virginia.
Miyares is one of two attorneys general initiating an inquiry, alongside Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. Racine’s probe is also looking into sexual harassment accusations while Miyares’ is solely focused on alleged financial wrongdoing.
“The Washington Commanders are probably one of the most recognizable Virginia companies based out of Ashburn and so we take every allegation seriously,” Miyares said in an interview on Tuesday.
“They’re going to cooperate with us by every indication. We’re going to look at what the evidence says. We’re not prejudging anything. But I think part of my job as attorney general is, when something is brought to my attention, to make sure that we give a look at the facts,” Miyares furthered.
It comes as a Congressional oversight committee is asking the Federal Trade Commission to review the allegations as well. The accusations span more than a decade, before the team changed its name. A former employee accused the team of unfairly withholding refundable deposits for fans and underreporting ticket revenue to the National Football League (NFL), among other things.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Commanders said, “The team categorically denies any suggestion of financial impropriety of any kind at any time. We adhere to strict internal processes that are consistent with industry and accounting standards, are audited annually by a globally respected independent auditing firm, and are also subject to regular audits by the NFL. We continue to cooperate fully with the Committee’s work.”
The controversy comes as taxpayer dollars are on the line. State lawmakers are debating a potentially massive financial package to convince the Commanders to move from their current home at FedEx Field in Maryland.
Miyares said he is not planning to weigh in on that effort, despite the allegations.
“I have not had a single conversation at all with anyone who is on the conference on this bill, nor will I,” Miyares said. “Candidly, that has zero impact on whatever decisions our office makes in this, nor should it be and I think the people of Virginia would expect that.”
Asked if the allegations are giving him second thoughts about the bill, Delegate Cliff Hayes Jr. said, “What I am interested in is getting to the bottom of it because they are just that, allegations.”
“What it has done is just further emphasize something that I have always had as a posture anyway and that is any deal, any issue that we’re going to enter where it’s going to put at risk the taxpayer’s dollars, we need to investigate thoroughly what’s going on,” Hayes continued.
Hayes said the main difference between the two bill versions the conferees have been tasked with resolving is the Senate wants to provide more tax incentives than the House.
Supporters argue the state will ultimately profit from the investment due to the tax revenue that the stadium will generate. The latest financial impact statement on the Senate bill is inconclusive but it raises potential downsides.
“This bill may have an unknown but potentially significant negative impact to state revenues,” the statement said. “Localities may lose revenue due to the exemption from taxation provided to [the Virginia Football Stadium Authority] and to the extent the localities choose to dedicate local sales and use tax to VFSA.”
Hayes said there hasn’t been any talking between all six negotiators since they were designated to discuss the deal back in March. He said reaching a two-year budget agreement has been the top priority but a deal has also yet to emerge on that.
“I can tell you I have been in no meetings. I have no knowledge of any meetings being called to this day,” Hayes said. “We haven’t talked at all.”
Hayes said the allegations give him pause but he is not a definite no vote on the bill. He noted that, even if it’s signed into law, it only paves the way for a financing authority to be created and outlines what tools the group can use to lure the team over the state line. It does not guarantee an agreement with the Commanders, according to Hayes.
“We saw this pretty shiny car on the lot. It wants to be sold. We have to decide whether or not we want to buy it or not,” Hayes said.
The other five bill conferees either were not available or didn’t respond to interview requests on Tuesday.
Hayes couldn’t say if and when the bill may get another vote.
Miyares doesn’t have a timeline for finishing the investigation.