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Buffalo Bills Legal Chief Away From Team as NFL Season Begins

Sept. 13, 2022, 9:30 AM

The National Football League’s Buffalo Bills, one of the favorites to win the next Super Bowl, are without their longtime general counsel as a new season starts and the team faces scrutiny surrounding sexual assault allegations against its former rookie punter Matt Araiza.

A Bills spokesman confirmed that Gregg Brandon, general counsel for the team since 2013, is on a leave of absence from the club. The Bills declined further comment and Brandon did not respond to comment requests.

Brandon joined the Bills in 2013 after serving as general counsel for XOS Digital Inc. and Collegiate Images LLC, a licensing and clearance company for sports images. He was previously an associate at the law firms Akerman and now-defunct Howrey.

Archived internet records show that Brandon was removed from the team’s website in early August. An auto-response message from Brandon’s Bills email address said he’s “out of the office at this time with limited access to email.”

The message directed all Bills-related inquires to assistant general counsel Kathryn D’Angelo. It also directed inquiries for the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres and Pegula Sports and Entertainment LLC, an entity that controls the Bills and Sabres, to David Zygaj, vice president of legal affairs for the Sabres.

Neither lawyer responded to requests for comment.

An individual who answered the phone at the Bills headquarters in Orchard Park, N.Y., said Brandon hasn’t been around for several months. Brandon’s cell phone voicemail was full and redirected callers to the team’s office.

Araiza Affair

The Bills released Araiza, known as the “Punt God,” Aug. 27 after a civil lawsuit accused the team’s sixth-round draft pick this year of taking part in an alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old girl during a party at his San Diego home in October 2021.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said in an Aug. 27 press conference that D’Angelo, the team’s assistant general counsel, was made aware of the claims involving Araiza in late July.

“At that time, our process, we tried to be thorough and thoughtful,” Beane said. “Not rush to judgment, and I would say it’s not easy. You’re trying to put facts around a legal situation, sometimes with limited information.”

D’Angelo was the sole Bills attorney handling the response to the allegations against Araiza, said Daniel Gilleon, a San Diego lawyer for the alleged victim who has been critical of the team’s handling of the matter. D’Angelo, a former state prosecutor and associate at Buffalo’s Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, joined the Bills in 2016.

Kerry Armstrong, another San Diego lawyer representing Araiza, declined to discuss the nature of his discussions with the Bills. He acknowledged communicating several times over a four-to-five week period ahead of his client’s release by the team.

Armstrong said Araiza expects to be “fully exonerated” in the case filed against him. He noted that Araiza is “displeased” the Bills cut him following the rape allegation, but the punter understands the team was in a difficult position.

Bills Ownership

Terry Pegula, a natural gas billionaire who paid $189 million to acquire the Sabres in 2011, took control of the Bills three years later in a $1.4 billion deal. Pegula and his wife Kim, at the time advised by Pittsburgh’s Sherrard, German & Kelly, beat out former President Donald Trump to buy the Bills.

Bloomberg reported last month on a Pegula-backed special purpose acquisition vehicle, East Resources Acquisition Corp., merging with a pair of life insurance asset managers. Latham & Watkins is advising East Resources on that $618 million deal, which will create a public company called Abacus Life Inc.

Brandon was hired by the Bills at a time when the team’s president and CEO was his brother, Russ Brandon, who spent more than two decades in the team’s front office.

Russ Brandon, who was also president of the Sabres and a managing partner at Pegula Sports and Entertainment, resigned from those roles in May 2018. The Buffalo News reported that Russ Brandon stepped down following an internal investigation into allegations related to his workplace behavior.

The Pegulas used their personal attorneys in Pittsburgh for the inquiry into Russ Brandon, according to the Buffalo News. Kim Pegula subsequently succeeded Russ Brandon as president of the Bills and Sabres, a position that made her the first woman to head an NFL franchise.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com