Commanders’ Dan Snyder fined $60 million for sexually harassing employee, financial improprieties

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder sexually harassed a team employee and oversaw team executives who deliberately withheld millions of dollars in revenue from other clubs, and he has agreed to pay a $60 million fine, the league announced Thursday.

The NFL released a 23-page report detailing the findings of an independent investigation into Snyder’s conduct just minutes after its owners unanimously approved the sale of the Commanders to Josh Harris for a record $6.05 billion. The fine represents 1% of the sale price; Snyder bought the team, then known as the Redskins, for $800 million.

The investigation was led by former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White and conducted by her law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton. The league had pledged to make the findings of the probe public.

Investigators concluded that Washington withheld $11 million in revenue that should have been shared with other teams, an amount the report suggests may have been far greater. White’s firm was unable to reach a conclusion about tens of millions of additional dollars that may have been withheld in part because Snyder and the team did not cooperate fully with the investigation, according to the report.

The report concluded that Snyder sexually harassed former team employee Tiffani Johnston, allegations that Johnston first made last year in front of a House committee. Snyder placed his hand on Johnston’s thigh at a team dinner and pushed her toward his car as they were leaving the restaurant, the report said.

“The findings do speak for themselves. In both cases, it’s inappropriate, it’s wrong, it doesn’t match our values,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a news conference in Minnesota after NFL owners voted.

Snyder has denied Johnston’s allegations and repeated that denial in an interview with White’s investigators. He only agreed to speak with investigators for one hour, the report said.

Investigators spoke with Johnston several times and “found her to be highly credible,” the report said, and her account was corroborated by witnesses and other evidence. The investigation also substantiated claims by another former employee, Jason Friedman, who told the House about financial improprieties.

“Dan Snyder has been forced to sell the team he said he would never sell, pay a massive fine to the NFL and there now exists an extensive public record of his personal wrongdoing and the misconduct that occurred under his leadership,” attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent Johnston and Friedman, said in a statement. “We are proud of our clients’ courage in coming forward publicly and working tirelessly to hold Mr. Snyder accountable.”

The report also concluded that a former team executive improperly took possession of a photograph of Johnston from a calendar shoot of the team’s cheerleaders. Johnston was wearing lingerie in the photo, which had not been edited “to fully cover inadvertent exposures.” Investigators found insufficient evidence to show Snyder was personally involved in that incident.

White’s firm did not conclude whether Snyder was personally aware of the financial misdeeds, but witnesses told investigators that Snyder repeatedly pressured team employees to improve its financial performance, telling them, “every dollar matters.” Documents detailing how the team moved revenue into accounts that shielded the money from other teams were shared with Snyder on at least one occasion, the report said.

“At a minimum, (Snyder) was aware of certain efforts to minimize revenue sharing, at least some of which were later found to be in violation of the NFL rules,” the report said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said White’s findings contradicted Snyder’s sworn testimony and introduced two bills intended to protect American workers from the abuses committed by Snyder and the Commanders.

In order to skirt NFL revenue-sharing rules, Washington would classify team-related revenue as money made from special events such as concerts, college football games or soccer games.

“(I)f the NFL had a jail ... we would be in it,” a team employee wrote to its chief financial officer in 2010 after agreeing to allocate NFL revenue to a college game.

Friedman alleged that the Commanders had “a second set of books,” and the investigation corroborated his account. Among its findings were that millions of dollars in revenue from “tickets sold or bartered with sponsors at falsely undervalued prices” were moved into accounts that hid the money from the league.

In addition to the $11 million that White’s firm found the team withheld from the league, forensic accountants who reviewed the team’s books identified another $44 million in parking, license and other revenues that were transferred from accounts holding league revenue into special events accounts.

The report notes that the team’s revenue-shielding scheme “appear(s) to have become more aggressive after its ticket sales began deteriorating in 2008.” Washington had long touted a decades-long waiting list for season tickets, but demand cratered under Snyder’s stewardship of the team, which went 166-226-2 overall and won only two playoff games during his 24 years as owner.

Snyder long had a reputation for squeezing every possible dollar out of fans, from aggressive pricing of parking and concessions to charging fans to attend training camp. He even filed lawsuits against fans for canceling their season tickets. The District of Columbia Attorney General’s office reached a settlement with Snyder over the team’s failure to return season-ticket security deposits.

White’s firm wrote that while Snyder and the team pledged to fully cooperate with investigators, they did not. Instead, the Commanders failed to produce requested documents, declined to let investigators speak to the team’s external auditors, and engaged in other tactics that “delayed and impeded the investigation.”

“Evidencing his individual failure to cooperate, Mr. Snyder engaged in months of scheduling, canceling, and rescheduling of his interview,” the report said.

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