Posted by Adam Jacobi
Back in December 2009, the Arizona Republic dropped a bombshell about the Fiesta Bowl: that employees were allegedly routinely repaid for making donations to bowl-friendly politicians, skirting campaign finance laws. CEO John Junker denied any wrongdoing, and a brief investigation last year corroborated Junker's story.
Today, however, a new, independent investigative report was released that not only confirms the Arizona Republic's report, but paints an even starker picture: that Fiesta Bowl employees -- from Junker on down -- were also treating the bowl like some sort of personal piggy bank, racking up exorbitant expenses for parties and favors to politicians.
The 276-page report can be found here at the Fiesta Bowl's website, and the amount of inappropriate behavior uncovered by the investigation is staggering. The most serious charge is that 12 different employees told investigators that they were made part of a contribution scheme that funneled at least $46,500 to different politicians over the years, and many also said they were pressured into lying about or otherwise covering up the scheme.
Among the other misdeeds found by the investigators are a $33,000 birthday party for Junker, paid for by the bowl, and a $1,200 strip club tab. Moreover, the bowl would pay employees' entire credit card bills every month, then leave it up to employees to reimburse the bowl for whatever on the bill had been a personal expense, a practice ripe for abuse. Junker, in particular, would frequently omit receipts and merely write down what certain charges were -- one anecdote in the report alleges that Junker simply wrote down that a $200 charge was for a "taxi" and let the bowl foot the bill.
“We are extremely disappointed and angered by the findings of the Special Committee’s investigation. While the Special Committee Final Report speaks for itself, I must say that the actions undertaken and orchestrated by John Junker and others are shocking and completely unacceptable,” said Duane Woods, Chairman of the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors. “Their actions, unfortunately, have tainted the stellar reputation that the Fiesta Bowl has worked so hard to maintain for more than 40 years.
Junker has been terminated with cause by the Fiesta Bowl, and according to the New York Times, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he might face criminal charges, though it doesn't specify which aspects of the report could be criminal in nature. The firing shouldn't be terribly surprising to Junker, who was placed on administrative leave by the Fiesta Bowl board of directors six weeks ago after refusing to comply with the investigation.
The Fiesta Bowl's BCS status going forward isn't addressed in this report, but its tax-exempt status certainly is; the report makes note of two $100,000, tax-free, interest-free loans to two bowl executives that were later paid off with bonus money, and some uncertainty over whether those loans will threaten the Fiesta Bowl's status as a charity.