The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tensions rise in Washington Football Team ownership breakup, unsealed court filings show

Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder, left, and part-owners Dwight Schar, center, and Robert Rothman stand on the sideline before a playoff game in January 2016. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Seven months after the minority owners of the Washington Football Team informed majority owner Daniel Snyder they intended to sell their collective 40 percent stake, tensions continue to escalate over terms of the breakup.

On Friday, the three minority shareholders — FedEx chief executive Frederick W. Smith, real estate magnate Dwight Schar and investor Robert Rothman — asked a federal judge to sanction Snyder, the team’s primary owner, for violating a Nov. 19 court order barring all parties from leaking information about negotiations, disparaging one another or otherwise interfering with the process.

Washington Football Team spokeswoman Julie A. Jensen did not respond to requests for comment.

Also Friday, the court made public a raft of legal filings in the co-owners’ Nov. 13 lawsuit against Snyder — some heavily redacted to obscure privileged business information — that shed light on a highly contentious process that previously had unfolded out of the public eye.

After The Washington Post sought access to the court filings, which were under seal and not open to the public, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte agreed to unseal a significant portion of the record.

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Tensions between Snyder and his co-owners began to rise soon after they informed him, via a May 14 letter, that they had hired Baltimore-based investor John A. Moag to handle the sale.

Among the documents made public Friday is a June 1 letter from David L. Koche, a lawyer for the minority owners, to Snyder adviser Norman Chirite, noting that Snyder could avoid “a lengthy and expensive due diligence process” by outside accountants if he bought the co-owners’ shares himself or led the effort.

According to a person familiar with the situation, Snyder threw the minority owners off the team’s board sometime in June and denied them access to its financial statements.

Facing an impasse, the co-owners filed a formal grievance against Snyder with the NFL, as is standard procedure under the league’s bylaws for resolving major conflicts. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed an arbitrator to settle the dispute.

Meanwhile, Moag sought prospective buyers and this fall identified a California-based trio interested in his clients’ 40 percent stake for a discounted price of $900 million.

After Snyder attempted to block the transaction by asserting a selective right of refusal — offering to buy the 25 percent held by Smith and Rothman but not the 15 percent owned by Schar — the co-owners sued him in U.S. District Court in Maryland on Nov. 13, asking a federal judge to force Snyder to let the sale proceed. The suit was filed under seal to keep details about the dispute and the team’s finances private.

Friday’s release of various court documents, in response to The Post’s intervention, shed light on efforts to resolve the dispute.

In a Nov. 19 court order, Messitte put the NFL’s ongoing arbitration proceedings on pause, temporarily enjoining Snyder and the NFL from going forward with arbitration of any issues currently being litigated.

Other filings reveal acrimony between the parties.

In one, Snyder’s lawyers included a screenshot of a threatening text sent to Snyder by Moag, the financial consultant hired by the minority owners, which alludes to the potential release of damaging information. Moag texted Snyder, in part: “If you continue your game, you know what I know and what I have never spoken about. And you know it has nothing to do about the media s--- …. it’s the more serious s---.

“If you want to get to a clean conclusion, let me know. If you want a s--- show, we are on for that too.”

Reached by phone Friday night, Moag confirmed the authenticity of the text but declined to answer any questions about the “serious s---” he referred to.

“Dan knows what it’s about. I’ll leave it at that,” said Moag, who declined to comment further.

Washington Football Team minority owners have a deal to sell, but Daniel Snyder is blocking it

In asking the judge to punish Snyder for violating the Nov. 19 court order against leaking information, Koche, the lawyer for the minority owners, submitted a sworn statement Friday in which he said he had been contacted by a New York Times reporter asking about a possible pending sale of the minority owners’ shares to Snyder. The minority owners’ motion asserts information regarding such negotiations could have come only from the Snyder side.

Koche further stated he had taken part in negotiations with a representative of Snyder about a possible sale but those talks had produced “no agreed deal, and not even a term sheet.”

Other court documents spell out the precise ownership breakdown of the Washington Football Team. Snyder, the principal owner, owns 40.459 percent. His sister, Michele, owns 12.552 percent, and his mother, Arlette, owns 6.489 percent.

Rothman and Schar each own 15.168 percent. Smith owns 10.163 percent.

The team is worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes’s 2020 valuation. A 40 percent stake, at that market value, would be worth $1.4 billion. Those figures typically only hold when the team is sold in its entirety, according to industry experts; shares for minority ownerships in NFL franchises are worth less because they carry no authority in the team’s operations.

Court documents confirmed Snyder is the only member of the ownership group with voting rights.