By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009; A11
The Washington Redskins have filed 137 lawsuits against ticket holders of premium seats and skyboxes in the past five years, according to a review of court records by The Washington Post.
Most of the suits, 125, were filed against individuals and a few companies who defaulted on multiyear contracts for premium seats, including club seats with amenities or "dream seats" by the field. The other dozen mainly involved corporate skybox contracts.
The team has had the most success in skybox cases -- winning $8.3 million in judgments after suing for $10.2 million. Nine were for the 2008 season, and three for 2007.
Most of the suits against skybox renters involve companies that at one time were flying high in a booming economy.
When Faisil Gill and Asim Ghafoor opened the Sapentia LLC lobbying firm a few years ago, they thought they needed a skybox at FedEx Field to compete for business and rub elbows with members of Congress. Jack Abramoff, the disgraced former lobbyist and convicted felon, once had two skyboxes at FedEx.
Gill and Ghafoor, signing on behalf of Sapentia, agreed to pay $200,000 a year for a six-year contract on a 16-seat suite.
Soon they were lending their suite to members of Congress for fundraisers, Gill said, and hosting local politicians who wanted to watch a game. But when new lobbying rules were enacted last year, putting a strict limit on gifts, politicians shunned the seats.
"People were cutting back their lobbying budgets quite a bit," said Gill, a former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. "Congress was cutting back using suites because of new lobbying rules, and it wasn't as advantageous to have a box. . . . Several clients defaulted."
Gill and Ghafoor called the Redskins to try to get out of the contract. The team sued Sapentia and won a judgment of $946,562 in Prince George's County Circuit Court.
But the team might be stuck with an uncollectible bill. Gill and Ghafoor dissolved Sapentia, and because the firm was a limited liability corporation, Gill and Ghafoor say they cannot be held personally responsible for its debts.
District-based Distributive Networks LLC, a firm that sent out 2.9 million text messages on behalf of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, signed a 10-year skybox contract in 2007. The firm recruited employees promising skybox access.
The next year, the firm did not make its $169,000 payment. The Redskins sought the amount due for the full 10 years, nearly $2 million.
Hanif Moledina, owner of Bean East Corp., a coffee roaster in Northern Virginia, signed a lease for a $100,000-a-year suite last year but missed his payments. The Redskins settled out of court before the start of the season, and Moledina promised to send $12,000 checks weekly through January.
But he missed all his payments, and the Redskins sued. In July, he was indicted by a federal grand jury and accused of running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded friends and associates out of $7 million.
Redskins officials said their lawsuits in general were comparable to about a dozen filed by the New England Patriots. But Patriots officials said they rarely sued their customers. The team filed about two dozen suits six years ago after Gillette Stadium opened. The cases involved companies and people who tried to back out of 10-year contracts after the first year.
Patriots officials said they also try to determine whether customers have the means to adhere to seating contracts. The Redskins have no such process.
"It is not for us to decide that somebody cannot afford a club seat," said Redskins General Counsel David Donovan. "They come in; they know what it costs; they sign a contract. The dollars are on the piece of paper.
"It's not our job to do some sort of forensic financial analysis on customers to determine if the can afford the obligation they are entering into. They are adults, and they know their own finances."