SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Fiesta Bowl’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to fire President and CEO John Junker after releasing the results of a far-reaching investigation into issues related to the reimbursement of campaign contributions, a previous investigation by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, excessive executive compensation and inappropriate expenditures and gifts.
“The entire Fiesta Bowl family is angered and disappointed by what we have seen in this report and by the actions of Mr. Junker,” Fiesta Bowl Chairman Duane Woods said.
Woods said the investigative report is very thorough and the facts will speak for themselves, and among the findings are an apparent scheme to reimburse at least $46,539 in improper campaign contributions, among other things, and also unauthorized and excessive compensation, non-business and inappropriate expenditures and inappropriate gifts.
According to the New York Times, nearly a dozen employees told investigators they were encouraged to make political contributions.
Some said they then were pressured to lie about the practice.
The investigators do not make conclusions about whether bowl executives or others broke the law, but at least one expert in nonprofit organizations said the findings could lead to criminal charges. At minimum, the investigation is likely to threaten the tax-exempt status of the bowl, which, like most other prominent organizations in college sports, is formally registered as a charity.
The Times also mention trips to Boston, Chicago and other places where the Fiesta Bowl hosted Arizona politicians and their families, including current Senate President Russell Pearce, who traveled with his wife to Chicago in 2005 to attend a Northwestern-Michigan game and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton.
He and his wife also traveled to Boston on a similar trip with his son in 2008, according to the report.
Junker, who had been on administrative leave since February 14, 2011 after failing to comply with two written directives by the Fiesta Bowl to cooperate with the special committee’s investigation,. He did agree to be interviewed, the report says, but refused to answer any questions relating to campaign contributions, allegations of the reimbursement of campaign contributions or the first investigation into the allegations of reimbursement of campaign contributions by the Fiesta Bowl.
“The lesson learned here,” Fiesta Bowl Chairman of the Woods added, “is that we placed too much trust in a single individual. The thousands of volunteers of the organization who for years built a reputation of the organization really, at this point, I’m sure are disappointed.”
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in a statement that the Fiesta Bowl deserves credit for allowing the special committee to prepare a comprehensive report, which will be part of his office’s investigation.
“That report has been presented to our office and will assist us in the ongoing investigation of this matter,” he said.