Friday, October 18, 2013

The Owners Take All The Risks (Of Prosecution)

Let us consider Zygi Wilf.

Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, and his brother and his cousin, are bad people. They are bad people who defrauded their business partners out of a great deal of money. The legal ruling against the Wilfs, in a case which they have been dodging for two decades, nailed them for fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of racketeering laws.

Racketeering, for those of you not up on your decades-old Dennis Farina cop shows, means "mob-type stuff". Violating racketeering statutes in New Jersey means you really had to work at it.

The judge in the case noted that Wilf demonstrated "bad faith and evil motive". She also noted that, and I quote here: "I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate. There was a consistent, pervasive method of removing funds so they would not reach the partners."

This is the work of bad people, doing bad things.  This is also the work of people the state of Minnesota just handed half a billion dollars over to for a new stadium.

Let us consider Jimmy Haslam. He is the owner of the Browns. He is also the head of company that runs the Flying J series of truck stops, which anyone who has driven an interstate is no doubt familiar with. Pilot Flying J is currently in all sorts of legal trouble for withholding fuel rebates from its customers.

Withholding fuel rebates is a nice way of saying "did not give them money they were legally entitled to", which is another way of saying "stole". Mr. Haslam, the subject of a recent glowing puff piece at, claims no knowledge of this chicanery. Of course, Mr. Haslam also has a reputation for being a hands-on owner who knows the details of his business intimately. So, if one accepts this assessment, one is forced to conclude that either A) Mr. Haslam did know what was going on, as a hands-on owner and manager might or B) Mr. Haslam did not know what was going on, which kind of puts a dent in his rep as a hands-on guy and perhaps raises the question of whether the CEO who doesn't know his people are robbing customers should perhaps be replaced, or at least told to stand in the corner without a golden parachute for a while.

The beat goes on. The former owner of the 49ers got dinged for bribing a Louisiana politician. According to an ESPN Magazine story, the plucky owners of the Green Bay Packers committed arson and insurance fraud, once upon a time. Art Modell was allegedly tight with gambling interests. So was the guy who founded the Chargers. It goes on and on.

Remember that, the next time some talking head rants and raves about how Jim Irsay is disgracing himself and the league by spouting the occasional bit of gibberish on Twitter. Because that's what's really important.

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