Fiesta Bowl employees were paid for their political contributions Grant Woods was Fiesta Bowl’s attorney, then “investigated” them and found nothing wrong
Special committee investigators found that some contributions and bonuses were deleted from the document sent to state officials, although the original was found in Woods’ files. That included more than $37,000 that employees said was paid to Junker as compensation for political donations.Liberal Republican Grant Woods, who endorses Democrats over Republicans for office, is finally going down in what may be the biggest scandal since AZSCAM.
A Fiesta Bowl report describing corruption and inappropriate spending focuses on top executives.
But the extent of wrongdoing it describes also raises questions about whether directors of the non-profit organization failed in their watchdog role.
The report, commissioned by a special committee of the bowl’s board, quotes employees as saying that they lied about their roles in hiding political contributions. The report also alleges that some people falsified documents and took other steps to conceal a culture of excess that permeated the tax-exempt agency.
It also describes an initial inquiry that the bowl commissioned on the allegations and says the inquiry was fraught with shortcomings and suggests it was manipulated to fend off a government investigation.
Even when The Republic reported in December 2009 of employees’ claims that they had received cash bonuses to compensate for campaign contributions – a potential violation of campaign-finance law and the bowl’s tax-exempt status – then-Chairman Alan Young denounced the article as untrue.
Board members initially hired prominent Phoenix lawyer Grant Woods to conduct an “independent review.” Less than a week after the story appeared, Young announced that the former attorney general had uncovered “no credible evidence” of illegal or unethical conduct.
Wood’s independence, however, came into question for a number of reasons.
First, he was retained by the Fiesta Bowl as legal counsel and worked as the agency’s advocate, constrained by attorney-client privilege.
Second, Woods has close ties with Gary Husk, an attorney-consultant who represented the Fiesta Bowl and was linked in The Republic’sreport to the alleged campaign violations. Husk, who was paid more than $1.25 million from the Fiesta Bowl from 2005 to 2009, previously worked at the Attorney General’s Office as Woods’ chief counsel.
Third, at the time Woods was retained by the Fiesta Bowl, he was co-chairman of the election campaign for Gov. Jan Brewer, who was a recipient of bowl-related campaign contributions. One of Brewer’s advisers, Chuck Coughlin, was a consultant who worked with Husk and received $557,000 in Fiesta Bowl fees from 2005 to 2010.
The special committee’s report, unveiled publicly today, suggests that Woods’ probe was orchestrated to come up empty.
The report says that in spite of the role employees said Husk played in the donations, Husk was the person who recommended Woods to lead the investigation.
The report says Woods acknowledged that Husk prepared the list of questions to be asked of Fiesta Bowl employees and hand-picked those who were interviewed. Woods told investigators he was given only a few days to conduct a “seat-of-the-pants” inquiry, and was instructed not to take notes or write a report.
Numerous Fiesta Bowl staffers told investigators that Husk was implicated in the political contributions, yet teamed with Woods for an “independent” review. They said Husk conducted pre-interviews to eliminate witnesses who admitted they’d been reimbursed, and coached others on how to respond to Woods’ questions.
According to the special committee report, Woods advised the Fiesta Bowl board that he had uncovered no campaign-finance problems without comparing political donations with bonuses paid to bowl employees. The report contains no indication that directors asked questions or expressed skepticism.
In early 2010, Woods sent a letter to state Elections Director Amy Bjelland, who was investigating possible campaign violations. “At no time has any (Fiesta Bowl) employee ever been reimbursed for a political contribution,” Woods wrote, adding that he had reviewed pertinent records. About the same time, Woods hired Michael Brewer, the governor’s son, to assemble a list of political contributions by Fiesta Bowl employees. The report says Woods concluded that donations were not linked to bonus checks even though a correlation was obvious.
In February 2010, the report says, Husk asked bowl employees to prepare a spreadsheet of campaign contributions and bonus checks. Woods then mailed a similar spreadsheet to the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees state election laws.
However, special committee investigators found that some contributions and bonuses were deleted from the document sent to state officials, although the original was found in Woods’ files. That included more than $37,000 that employees said was paid to Junker as compensation for political donations.
Natalie Wisneski, the bowl’s chief operating officer, told investigators that Husk instructed her to alter checkbook entries. Wisneski and Peggy Eyanson, director of business operations, both told investigators they also were instructed to destroy accurate financial ledgers, according to the report.
The Fiesta Bowl paid Woods $55,000 for his efforts, the report said, and Woods told investigators he passed $20,000 of that on to Husk, without explaining why.
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