Washington Commanders may have cheated fans, other team owners

Football team engaged in 'potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct,' panel says

Washington Commanders helmets on display at Inova Sports Performance Center at Ashburn, Va. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Washington Commanders helmets on display at Inova Sports Performance Center at Ashburn, Va. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Posted April 12, 2022 at 3:14pm

Washington’s embattled professional football team faces new accusations that it engaged in “​a scheme to cheat fans and the NFL,” including by keeping two sets of financial books and nearly $5 million in refundable deposits to fans, a letter from the House committee investigating the team said.

Team leadership, including owner Daniel Snyder, may have been engaged in a “troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct that may have victimized thousands of team fans and the National Football League,” stated the letter, sent from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to the Federal Trade Commission.

“We're just finding a spaghetti of wrongdoing,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who leads the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy and signed the letter with committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y. “Each time we talk to a witness, it seems like there's something else that we learn.”

The 20-page letter, which calls on FTC Chair Lina Khan to continue to review the financial conduct and determine whether further action is necessary, centers on an interview the panel conducted with former Commanders sales executive Jason Friedman.

Investigators said documents and statements from former employees suggest the team had intentionally not refunded millions in deposits owed to fans and kept a second set of books to hide revenue from other teams.

The team pointed to a March 31 statement denying financial impropriety of any kind when asked for comment Tuesday: “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.”

One set of financial documents, which was shared with the NFL, underreported certain revenue, and the other had the full accounting, according to the committee. Those complete books were “shown to Mr. Snyder,” according to the letter.

That unreported revenue, referred to as “juice,” was assigned as nonsharable and kept from the NFL, the letter said.

Friedman, who worked nearly a quarter-century for the team before leaving in October 2020, shared information and documents that showed the refundable deposits from nearly 2,000 customers weren’t returned as of 2016.

The committee said Friedman provided information showing the team “falsely processed or misassigned a portion of the ticket revenue from Commanders games as fees related to special events,” which didn’t need to be shared with the NFL.

The Oversight panel called on the NFL last year to produce documents related to the alleged workplace harassment that Commissioner Roger Goodell sought to keep private, though explosive stories have continued to emerge.

A probe led by attorney Beth Wilkinson examined some of the same claims that former employees of the football team gave voice to at a February committee roundtable, where several brought new accusations against Snyder.

Wilkinson reportedly spent months interviewing more than 150 people and collecting more than 650,000 emails, but according to reporting from The Washington Post, she was told to not file a written report and instead present the findings verbally.

Krishnamoorthi, who has led the congressional push to probe the Commanders alongside Maloney, said the committee has received some documents from the NFL on a “rolling basis,” saying the panel still seeks more documentation.

The financial allegations in the investigation were uncovered as the panel heard from witnesses who were asked to speak about the toxic workplace environment and sexual harassment allegations, he said, adding the investigation is still squarely focused on the team’s workplace culture.

The subcommittee chairman has in the past argued the probe is well within the committee’s jurisdiction, which includes the rules, regulations and laws that govern workplace safety, as well as nondisclosure agreement law.

But he said when other allegations of wrongdoing emerge, it is the committee’s duty to inform federal authorities. And it’s possible more alleged wrongdoing could emerge as the committee continues its work.

"Unfortunately," Krishnamoorthi said, "there appears to be so much dysfunction at the organization that, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised about anything that we find."