Looks like Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker is in serious trouble. The Republic broke the story of allegations that Fiesta Bowl employees have taken excessive salaries and been encouraged to make political donations. The paper has raised questions about Junker's nearly $600,000 salary and questioned a loan that allowed him to join a country club.
The story is starting to accelerate and my guess is that we are going to see major action against Junker in the next few weeks---but something doesn't smell right.
Here's the first line of the October 2010 story that first brought the issue to light.
The Fiesta Bowl, in a reversal, has appointed a special committee to investigate whether employees were reimbursed for making political campaign contributions - a felony.
Isn't that a bit strange? Did the "Fiesta Bowl" make a decision? Surely, it was the Board of the Fiesta Bowl that made the decision to investigate the Fiesta Bowl CEO and former employees.
And what about the allegations of Junker's excessive salary? Did Junker approve his own salary--or was it the Board? Did Junker approve his own loan--or was it the Board?
The heart of the story is that Fiesta Bowl employees were encouraged to make political contributions and were then reimbursed. The implication of the story is that it was Junker who was doing the encouraging and reimbursing. But is Junker in charge of salaries, or is that a Board decision? Is Junker the only one who contributes to candidates, or do Board members contribute as well? How many of these fundraisers were sponsored by Board Members?
The story is strange because Republic reporter Craig Harris seems to have intentionally concentrated his fire exclusively on Junker. His use of the awkward expression "The Fiesta Bowl decided..." indicates that he is working hard not to mention the Board. Harris's ignoring of obvious facts about Board involvement in Junker's salary and loan are odd considering that reporters--like prosecutors--want to investigate their way to the top of the decision tree.
Junker's press has been so bad and the Board's press has been so good that I wonder if there's something going on--some behind the scenes powerful force that deflects light away from the Board toward Junker...
To his credit, Republic reporter Craig Harris gave us a clue as to why his story is so awkwardly written...why the investigation stops at Junker and why the Board involvement is not explored. Here's a disclaimer at the bottom of one of the articles.
The Arizona Republic has been a longtime sponsor of the Fiesta Bowl. Republic President and Publisher John Zidich is on the bowl's board.
Indeed, here the link to the Fiesta Bowl site.
Here's a screen shot from the Fiesta Bowl website. Zidich isn't just "on" the Board, he's an officer on the Board. As Board Secretary, one would assume that Zidich takes his fiduciary duty seriously and keeps himself informed about Board actions.
This conflict raises a host of questions.
Did Zidich vote to approve the salary and loan? Could any of his actions have been construed as encouraging employees to make political contributions? Did Zidich approve reimbursements?
Why is Zidich still on the Board? Reporter Craig Harris acknowledged Zidich's conflict, but that can't excuse the fact that the Arizona Republic is investigating the Fiesta Bowl, while the Republic Publisher sits on the Fiesta Bowl Board.
How much has Zidich's presence skewed the coverage? Is Junker facing serious charges because the reporter was afraid to make his boss look bad?
Or worse, could Zidich--in a pure Machiavellian move--have directed Harris to focus on Junker?
The bottom line is that the Publisher of the Republic serves on the Board of an organization that is being investigated by the Republic. Furthermore, the Republic's coverage has stayed clear of the Board and focused (rather awkwardly) on Junker--despite that fact that many of Junker's actions required Board approval.
What did John Zidich know and when did he know it? How has he influenced the coverage? How has the coverage influenced the criminal investigation--after all, it appears that the criminal investigation has followed the same path as the newspaper coverage..
I'm sure that most of this will come out in the depositions--after all, Junker will obviously sue and claim that the Republic targeted him in an effort to deflect attention from the Publisher.
Why is Zidich still on the Fiesta Bowl Board? Don't they have lawyers at the Republic? Even if the Republic chooses to ignore the ethical implications of this conflict, the paper's lawyers can't let Zidich ignore the legal implications.
Zidich needs to resign from the Board and then he and the Republic need to lawyer up. There's a blitz coming.