D.C. Attorney General Files Second Complaint Against Commanders
The attorney general for the District of Columbia filed a civil complaint against the Washington Commanders on Thursday, accusing the team of failing to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars in season ticket deposits to fans.
It was the second complaint filed against the team by Karl Racine, the attorney general, and came a week after the first civil complaint accused the Commanders, team owner Dan Snyder, the N.F.L. and Commissioner Roger Goodell of misrepresenting their efforts to address decades of sexual harassment and abuse of women who worked for the team.
“The Commanders’ arrogance and blatant disregard for the law is a slap in the face to District residents who have supported the team for decades,” Racine said in a statement Thursday.
In the complaint, the attorney general alleged that the team misrepresented the terms of returning customers’ security deposits, saying that their money would be refunded within 30 days after their season-ticket contracts expired. The team, the attorney general said, failed to disclose that it would hold those security deposits indefinitely unless the season-ticket holders followed an “undisclosed, extra-contractual policy” requiring them to submit a signed written request for their deposit to be returned.
The omission, the complaint said, “tended to mislead consumers and is an unlawful trade practice.”
Racine said he was seeking a court order to force the Commanders to stop these practices and pay back ticket-holders who live in Washington, his jurisdiction, as well as financial penalties for the team for violating consumer-protection laws.
According to the complaint, the team has been withholding security deposits as far back as 1996. Over the years, some fans have been repaid, but many former season-ticket holders who live in the District are still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Together, the two civil lawsuits brought in Washington add to the mounting legal inquiries of Snyder, who faces at least six open investigations, including one led by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and another by the attorney general for the state of Virginia.
The Commanders are headquartered in Virginia and play their home games in Maryland, but they draw on residents of those two states and Washington as ticket-buyers and employees.
Racine in recent years has opened cases against Facebook and Amazon, joined other attorneys general in suing Google over privacy practices and brought a federal lawsuit against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
His complaints related to the Commanders could each result in potentially millions of dollars of penalties. In the first complaint, if a jury determined that the league and the team had lied about their investigation into sexual harassment at the organization, they could be fined “up to $5,000” for each instance in which they misrepresented their efforts.
Courts have broad discretion to determine what constitutes a violation.
In contrast with Racine’s earlier suit, damages in the consumer-protection lawsuit filed on Thursday are more easily quantifiable because it seeks to identify money that may have been withheld from Washington consumers and other businesses.
The team and N.F.L. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The charges in the complaint on Thursday were originally brought to light in a hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which began an investigation of the team in October 2021. Numerous former team employees spoke to the congressional committee at a round table in February, including Jason Friedman, who for 24 years worked in the team’s ticketing office.
He accused the team of keeping “two sets of books” in order to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue that was supposed to be shared with all 32 N.F.L. franchises. He also claimed that the team had not properly refunded as much as $5 million in refundable security deposits to season-ticket holders.
In April, the House committee referred the allegations involving potential ticket fraud to the Federal Trade Commission. According to an ESPN report, the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia is also looking into claims of financial malfeasance made against the team. The team has denied the charges and sent the F.T.C. 102 pages of support documents to disprove the allegations. The F.T.C. has not commented on its investigation.
The allegations made to Congress prompted the N.F.L. to hire Mary Jo White, an attorney and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to begin a new investigation into the Commanders and Snyder.
The problems facing Snyder and the Commanders, combined with the poor performance of the team on the field and the league’s lowest attendance, have irked the N.F.L.’s other owners, who have privately discussed ousting Snyder. Twenty-four of the 32 team owners would have to vote to remove Snyder, a step that has never been taken in the N.F.L.’s more than 100-year history.
Two weeks ago, Daniel and Tanya Snyder announced that they had hired bankers to explore all options for selling some or all of the team.