SBJ/20100628/This Week's News

Pace of NFLPA inquiry may be picking up

Moves by federal authorities in recent weeks provide signals that the government is stepping up its investigation into whether former NFL Players Association leaders tried to undermine the union, experts say.

The U.S. Department of Labor has been looking into whether former player leaders conspired to give information to the NFL that would give the league an advantage in collective-bargaining negotiations since at least spring 2009, but it is now seeking to interview NFLPA employees. Additionally, according to one source, federal authorities have recently served at least one subpoena on the NFLPA. The source asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing federal investigation.

The NFLPA declined to comment.

NFLPA associate general counsel Heather McPhee sent a memo to all NFLPA employees June 18 stating, “The NFLPA has been notified by government authorities that it may be the victim of violations of federal laws.” The memo said the NFLPA was cooperating with the investigation.

“Employees of the NFLPA may be contacted by federal authorities seeking information,” the memo said. “If you are contacted, you may choose to speak to federal authorities and/or you may request that an attorney be present for this interview. If you choose to have an attorney present, the NFLPA will designate outside counsel pursuant to its policies; that lawyer can advise you of your rights and represent you individually for this purpose at no cost to you.”

The investigation is being conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, sources said, and if charges are brought, it is expected that the U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia would prosecute the case. The union is based in Washington.

Spokespersons from both said it was their policy not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

The NFLPA confirmed the existence of the investigation in September 2009 but has not commented on any details.

Experts in federal investigations said the memo may signify several things but that it could mean authorities are intensifying their efforts.

“If it is just an inquiry and an informal inquiry and it’s not going anywhere, it is unlikely that there would be any notification of potential victims,” said Terree Bowers, former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles and now a partner in the law firm Arent Fox. “It sounds like the investigation has clearly got to the point where they are attempting to conduct individual interviews, but beyond that, it is difficult to draw any other information.”

Federal authorities are required to notify victims of federal crimes under the Justice Department’s victim notification system, but that requirement does not kick in until charges are filed, said a source at a federal law enforcement agency. No charges have been filed in this case.

Generally speaking, however, said this source, potential victims could be notified at any time during a federal investigation. The source asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Attorneys familiar with federal investigations said authorities might tell an organization that they may be a potential victim of a crime to explain the reason for interviews of employees as well as to gain cooperation.

The investigation was first revealed in a civil lawsuit filed by former NFLPA head of human resources Mary Moran last summer. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that former player President Troy Vincent and other player leaders as well as NFLPA employees were involved in activities that included meeting with NFL owners and officials to undermine the union’s collective-bargaining position. The league and Vincent, who was recently named NFL vice president of player development, have denied wrongdoing.

Moran’s lawsuit also alleged that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who defeated Vincent for the top union job in a March 2009 election, tried to quash the investigation. But lawyers familiar with law enforcement said the memo made it appear that the union was fully cooperating with the investigation.

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