Cooke Bills Va. $2.1 Million Over Stadium

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 1993; Page B01

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RICHMOND, March 3 -- Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has billed Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and the state pension fund more than $2.1 million for Cooke's expenses in last year's failed attempt to bring the team to Alexandria, including 315 hours of his time at $350 an hour.

After the state did not respond to Cooke's Feb. 3 letter demanding payment, Cooke's Washington attorney sent a second letter on Feb. 24, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. today and threatening legal action. The state attorney general's office sent Cooke's attorney a reply Tuesday refusing to pay and saying the claim "was not well supported in law or in fact."

Cooke would not comment in detail tonight on the dispute, but he said he was not suing the state. "We're not suing anybody at the moment," he said. "I'm certainly not suing the governor, who is my friend. As far as I'm concerned, it's a tempest in a teapot."

But the issue has put Cooke and Wilder at odds over whether the governor promised that the state would reimburse Cooke for his expenses connected with the proposal to build a Redskins stadium at the Potomac Yard rail yard.

Cooke's attorney, Mario V. Mirabelli, argues that Wilder told Cooke he would be repaid for his costs. "Mr. Cooke specifically was promised on several occasions that {his firm's} expenses would be reimbursed," Mirabelli wrote to Wilder and other state officials.

But the governor's press secretary, Glenn Davidson, said that claim is untrue. "At no time has the governor said or suggested that the state would reimburse anybody for anything," Davidson said.

According to sources, Cooke first sent state officials a five-page letter detailing his expenses in the stadium fight. Among the larger items were $409,000 in payments to Cooke's law firm, Hazel & Thomas, and $151,000 to his lobbyist, Richmond-based Vectre Corp. Included in the smaller items was $188 in telephone charges for July. Subsequently, Cooke added $110,250 to the bill for the time he personally spent working on the deal.

When Cooke received no response to his bill, Mirabelli sent another letter to Wilder and officials of the Virginia Retirement System, which controls the Potomac Yard tract through its ownership of the RF&P Corp.

"This is an extremely serious matter," Mirabelli warned. " . . . Mr. Cooke believes that he is entitled to the reimbursement, which he seeks legally, equitably and morally."

Mirabelli demanded "the immediate payment of $2,117,361.82" and promised that otherwise Cooke would "initiate any and all proceedings to recover the damages."

"Mr. Cooke would prefer to resolve this matter without resorting to litigation, which he recognizes will be time consuming as well as creating a public spectacle," Mirabelli wrote. "Nevertheless, we are equally confident that litigation will result in {Cooke} recovering more than the amounts demanded herein."

Mirabelli could not be reached for comment tonight. A woman who answered the phone at his home said he was out of the country.

Virginia Chief Deputy Attorney General R. Claire Guthrie wrote to Mirabelli that he had no case. Guthrie noted that the June 12 memo of understanding signed by Cooke, Wilder and RF&P President Rory Riggs specifically states that the tentative Potomac Yard deal "does not create any legally binding obligations" on any of the parties and notes that "the parties recognize that state legislative action will be necessary" to build the stadium.

"I encourage you to consider this information carefully before proceeding any further with the course of conduct outlined in your letter," she wrote. "I am sure you do not want to proceed with any action that is not well supported in law or in fact."

The Potomac Yard deal collapsed in October after intense criticism from Alexandria residents and from state legislators who objected to the $130 million subsidy Wilder proposed giving Cooke. The team later announced plans for a new stadium in the District.

Mark T. Finn, who serves on both the RF&P Corp. and retirement system boards and was a key player in the Potomac Yard negotiations, said he could not comment on the dispute because it might wind up in litigation.

But state sources said the firm, like Wilder, disputes allegations by Cooke that he was promised his expenses would be reimbursed. They also said it would vigorously contest the issue in court if Cooke sues.

Cooke's expenses connected to a stadium also have become a point of controversy in the District. D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson (D), a central figure in helping lure the Redskins back to the city, has proposed that the District pay all of Cooke's legal costs if he is ever sued over the issue of minority contracting in building the new stadium.

Staff writer Lorraine Adams contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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