Lobbyist Admits Helping Preds Snag Extra Millions

Lobbyist Admits Helping Preds Snag Extra Millions

CREATED Nov 26, 2011

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered even more taxpayer money pocketed by the Nashville Predators -- millions of dollars that city leaders never knew about.

And now we've figured out exactly who got state lawmakers to approve that extra money.

On Monday, we reported that the Predators had taken in almost $4 million extra beyond what the city had intended.. 

But we've now discovered that they've actually pocketed almost $6 million, and there's another $4 million waiting for them to claim. It's all thanks to a lobbying effort on Tennessee's Capitol Hill.

"I just was a lobbyist, so I put the bill into the legislature," said Nashville attorney James Weaver.

Weaver is the man who went to Capitol Hill to get more of your money.

He's a longtime supporter of Mayor Karl Dean and a former lobbyist for the Nashville Predators.

After the team signed a lucrative new contract with the city in 2008, Weaver now admits he got state lawmakers to send them even more taxpayer money.

"We found out after the legislation had passed," Dean told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

But his longtime ally had a different suggestion.

"It was a public process," Weaver insisted. "Again, the bill was debated in the House, debated in the Senate, passed by both by large margins and signed by the governor."

And somehow the Dean administration had no idea that he was doing that?

"I had a client and so I don't know what they knew or didn't know. I would be surprised if they didn't know," he said.

In fact, we discovered that the Predators got the extra tax money after language was inserted into two different tax bills pushed by the Bredesen administration.

First, in 2008, the law took state and local sales taxes from non-hockey games -- concerts for example -- and sent the money to the Nashville Sports Authority, supposedly to help cover the cost of the arena.

Then, in 2009, a second bill ordered that money be sent to the Conventions and Visitors Bureau to be spent at the direction of the Predators.

That same bill also imposed a privilege tax on all National Hockey League players -- again to be spent by the Predators.

And, for the team, it's been big money.

Metro Finance says that legislation has already generated $9.4 million.

So far, the Predators have drawn down $5.6 million.

There's another $3.8 million waiting to be claimed -- and the money's still coming in.

Here's breakdown of extra funds going to Predators
(Document from Metro Finance Department)

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the mayor, "Would you have agreed to the terms you did if you had known there were going to get other taxpayer money?"

"I can't really answer that," he said. "I mean, that's a state decision. The state made the decision."

And when NCVB President Butch Spyridon insisted that the Predators document what they were doing with the money, folks in the Predators office drew up agreements with each other -- the arena managers agreed to pay the team officials for the inconvenience of events booked at the facility.

That included the Garth Brooks flood relief concerts, which were booked well after the Predator's schedule was set.

"Do they have a blank check when it comes to the city?" we asked the mayor.

"No, no," he insisted. "I'm not familiar with the invoices you're speaking of. But if there are any questions about them, then need to be looked at very carefully and that's our job and Butch's job and we'll do that."

And the Predators spent a lot of money to get your money.

According to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission, they spent somewhere between $175,000 and $310,000 in 2008 and 2009 to hire James Weaver and other Capitol Hill lobbyists.

As for the mayor, he says his team is getting ready to review the deal he cut with the Predators four years ago. It's set to automatically renew unless something is done by December 31st.

Dean says these numbers are likely to figure into that discussion.

By the way, the Nashville Sports Authority is supposed to review contracts with the Predators.

But the current chairman, J.D. Elliott, dismantled the board's finance committee some time ago, saying it wasn't really needed.