Ed. note: Natasha Lydon is a new writer who will be helping out around Above the Law. She graduated from NYU Law School and spent years at a Vault top 50 law firm. She’ll be writing posts and working on some long-term projects. Also she’ll occasionally stop Elie from murdering the English language.
While most of us have been busy watching the worst championship game in history, scandal continues to brew over in that other college sport. Investigators recently issued their official report cataloging all of the alleged wrongdoing that has gone down in relation to the Fiesta Bowl, one of college football’s most prestigious bowl games. If you have a weekend to spare, you can read the public version of the Final Report here.
The Fiesta Bowl commissioned an initial investigation in early 2009 after rumors of campaign contribution improprieties first surfaced. This investigation was conducted by Grant Woods, a former Arizona Attorney General, who offered the Fiesta Bowl the oral conclusion that he had found “no credible evidence” of wrongdoing.
After The Arizona Republic went public with the rumors and people started to suspect that Woods’ investigation was improper (more on this later), the State of Arizona initiated a more serious investigation. Two Fiesta Bowl representatives teamed up with a former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court to choose an appropriate investigator. The winner was the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.
After five months of investigating, the firm issued a 276-page tome that reads like an issue spotting nightmare…
The laundry list of infractions set out in the Final Report not only violates NCAA and bowl regulations, but also implicates, at the very least, campaign-finance laws. Some of the highlights include:
* The Fiesta Bowl reimbursed the campaign contributions of at least 21 individuals to certain pre-selected politicians, totaling more than $46,000.
* Bowl officials fully financed out-of-town trips for certain Arizona legislators to college football games around the country, including one $65,000 weekend trip to Boston.
* The Fiesta Bowl Museum hosted fundraisers free of charge for certain Arizona politicians.
* The Fiesta Bowl provided free game tickets, parking passes and suites to Arizona politicians and made substantial monetary gifts to other organizations in order to secure tickets to popular events for certain politicians.
* The Fiesta Bowl reimbursed employees for several trips to Bourbon Street, Phoenix’s self-proclaimed “World Famous Strip Club,” including one $1,241 “business meeting” between the Fiesta Bowl’s former CEO and a security consultant (who also happens to be a lieutenant with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department).
Fiesta Bowl CEO John “Don’t Touch My” Junker has, not surprisingly, been fired and two other top bowl officials have resigned. Junker has not publicly comment on the firing, but has previously tried to justify the strip club visits by saying:
We are in the business where big strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments. It was important for us to visit and we certainly conducted business.
The Arizona Senate Ethics Committee also launched an inquiry last week into certain campaign donations and lobbying activities surrounding the Fiesta Bowl. To date, at least three Arizona senators have retroactively written checks to pay for free football tickets that they received from the Fiesta Bowl.
And what ever happened to the lawyers who conducted the initial investigation and determined that there was “no credible evidence” of wrongdoing? So far they have survived the scandal largely unscathed, but speculation has begun to swirl that they could face disciplinary action.
As it turns out, Grant Woods was recommended for the job by Gary Husk, an attorney on the Fiesta Bowl payroll. It is alleged that Husk pre-interviewed Fiesta Bowl employees about reimbursements for campaign contributions and only allowed those who said there were no reimbursements to be formally interviewed by Woods. There are further allegations that the initial investigators altered and manipulated evidence before turning it over to the State for use in the official investigation. Woods was paid $55,000 for his investigative services. He gave $20,000 of this his friend Husk. Whether the attorneys will be subject to sanctions for improper fee splitting and other misconduct remains to be seen.
Not to lose sight of what’s really important here:
how many illegal immigrants have been involved will the Fiesta Bowl scandal have any impact on the fans or the game of college football itself?
I say absolutely not. Who really cares if attorneys improperly split fees or some poor schmuck overpaid for a stripper in Phoenix when the game is on the line? People will still eat Tostitos, The Ohio State will continue to be overrated, and life as we know it in the college football universe will carry on.
Natasha Lydon is a new writer here at Above the Law. She graduated from NYU Law School and spent years at a Vault top 50 law firm. Follow Natasha on Twitter, at @NJLydon, or email her, at firstname.lastname@example.org.