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Dan Snyder Enlists Ex-Goldman Lawyer to Keep Grip on NFL Team

July 5, 2022, 9:30 AM

Dan Snyder is counting on a Big Law team that includes the ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. legal chief to keep ownership of his NFL team as a House panel seeks to compel his testimony about misconduct allegations.

Karen Patton Seymour, who helped Goldman settle criminal investigations in the 1MDB scandal, is working with Snyder after returning to Sullivan & Cromwell last year, House Committee on Oversight and Reform documents show.

Reed Smith partners Jordan Siev, James McCarroll, A. Scott Bolden and Cindy Minniti are also helping Snyder, said a person familiar with the matter.

The House panel, the NFL and two state attorneys general are investigating Snyder and the Washington Commanders over employee allegations of workplace and sexual misconduct and financial impropriety. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the panel chair, said June 22 she would subpoena Snyder to testify.

“The stakes are extremely high,” said Thomas Baker, a University of Georgia sport management and policy professor and former litigator. “There’s a clear and obvious effort to pressure the NFL to do something about Dan Snyder.”

High Stakes

In Seymour, Snyder has a veteran of high-stakes matters. While serving as general counsel and executive vice president at Goldman from 2018 to 2021, she helped settle probes of the bank’s role in the biggest foreign bribery case in US enforcement history.

Goldman in 2020 admitted its role in the scandal involving Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and agreed to penalties that then put its overall tab at more than $5 billion, Bloomberg News reported.

Before her work at Goldman, Seymour helped steer settlements at Sullivan & Cromwell between the government and financial institutions, including one involving French international banking group BNP Paribas in 2014.

She helped convict Martha Stewart in 2004 of charges tied to the ImClone stock trading investigation while serving in the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.

Seymour joined Snyder’s legal team in February, according to a person familiar with the matter. That same month, former Washington team employee Tiffani Johnston alleged during a congressional round table that Snyder touched her inappropriately during a 2009 business dinner. Snyder has denied the allegations.

Seymour voiced due process concerns relating to Snyder’s testimony in a letter to the House panel. She claimed the panel refused to explain the scope and nature of its investigation or what subjects it would ask Snyder about.

“Any alleged workplace misconduct under investigation by the committee occurred more than a decade in the past,” she told the panel.

Seymour, Sullivan & Cromwell and Snyder did not respond to requests for comment about the legal team. A statement released by Snyder’s spokesperson said he “has not refused to appear for a deposition” and “looks forward to finding a path forward.”

Reed Smith Role

Reed Smith allegedly helped Snyder launch a “shadow investigation” of his accusers amid the NFL’s initial probe into the organization, according to a memo the House panel released June 22. That investigation allegedly involved dispatching private investigators to former employees’ homes and abusing subpoena power, according to the panel.

Reed Smith did not respond to a request for comment. The House memo didn’t mention names of any specific attorneys involved in the alleged “shadow investigation.”

On Snyder’s Reed Smith team, Minniti is the managing partner of the firm’s New York office, Bolden is an at-large member of the executive committee, Siev leads the firm’s nonconsumer financial services litigation group, and McCarroll heads the investment management group.

Siev in April signed a letter to the Federal Trade Commission pushing back on allegations referred by the House panel that the team had engaged in unlawful financial conduct.

The House claimed that the Commanders may have intentionally withheld millions of dollars in refundable security deposits owed to customers, citing allegations from former team executive Jason Friedman.

Siev said the team gave Snyder’s counsel no opportunity to address the “false and malicious” claims of a “disgruntled former employee.”

Joe Tacopina, a trial lawyer and senior partner of a New York boutique firm, has worked with Reed Smith and Sullivan & Cromwell and represented Snyder since July 2020, he confirmed in an email though declined additional comment.

Tacopina’s clients have also included rapper Meek Mill and Fox News host Sean Hannity.

A House panel memo highlighted an interview Tacopina gave to a local Washington news outlet in which he explained Snyder’s litigation discovery tactics.

He said in that interview the work was part of an effort to find the sources of a false 2020 article linking Snyder to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein that ran on the website of an India-based company, according to the memo.

Owners Hold Power

Most at stake for Snyder and his legal team is the owner’s grip over the Washington football franchise, which he purchased in 1999.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lacks authority to end a person’s team ownership but can recommend that the league’s executive committee, which includes an owner or top officer from each franchise, act if other punishments are insufficient, according to a copy of NFL bylaws recently produced in federal court.

Three-fourths of the executive committee would need to support such a decision, according to the bylaws.

A removal scenario could apply to Snyder, said Chris Schmidt, a leader of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s sports & entertainment litigation practice.

“The commissioner has broad authority to make recommendations on any conduct that’s deemed detrimental to the best interest of the league,” said Schmidt, who represents NBA, MLB and NHL franchises. “Allegations against Dan Snyder and the Washington football team are serious and if proven certainly are the type of conduct that would be detrimental to the best interest of the NFL.”

Findings from the various investigations could reach a “tipping point” and compel three-fourths of team owners to act on their own, said Jeremi Duru, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law who studies sports law.

Panel Probe

The House panel began investigating the team last October after the league decided not to release the complete findings of an investigation led by Washington attorney Beth Wilkinson.

The probe found the team had a “highly unprofessional” workplace where bullying and intimidation frequently took place, a league statement summarizing the findings said. “Numerous” female employees reported sexual harassment allegations and senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct, Wilkinson found, according to the NFL.

The league hit the team with a $10 million fine and said that Snyder’s wife and co-chief executive officer, Tanya Snyder, would take over day-to-day operations for an undisclosed period.

While the House panel lacks authority over the franchise, it has a history of wrapping up probes by issuing recommendations to private companies, said Dave Rapallo, a former staff director for the committee.

The panel could provide its findings to the team and request that it and the NFL act on them, said Rapallo, an associate professor at Georgetown Law School.

More Investigations

Snyder and the team also face an NFL probe led by former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton.

The investigation looks into an accusation of sexual misconduct against Snyder and other allegations of financial impropriety raised by the House panel. Both matters remain under review, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is investigating the accusation of unlawful financial conduct against the team, his office’s communications director, Victoria LaCivita, confirmed.

Washington, D.C.'s attorney general, Karl Racine, said in April his office has been investigating Snyder and the Washington organization over allegations of sexual harassment and workplace and financial misconduct.

Both attorney general offices said they had no updates on their investigations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Wise at jwise@bloombergindustry.com

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