Fiesta probing alleged improper gifts

BY foxsports • February 14, 2011

Fiesta Bowl chief executive John Junker has been placed on administrative leave while officials investigate allegations of improper political campaign contributions and expense reimbursements by bowl employees.

Bowl organizers said Monday in a news release that an independent investigation is being conducted by a special committee of the board of directors consisting of retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor and Fiesta Bowl Directors Jim Bruner and Steve Whiteman.

The board doesn't have a definitive timeframe for when the investigation will be completed.

The Fiesta Bowl has been the target of government inquiries regarding its business practices and involvement in local, state and federal politics since a December 2009 Arizona Republic report raised questions about political donations made by employees of the organization.

The report cited several unnamed past and present Fiesta Bowl employees as saying they were encouraged to write checks to friendly politicians and then were reimbursed by the bowl.

Such reimbursements would violate state and federal campaign finance laws, and could be misdemeanors or felonies.

Junker has said employees never were reimbursed and the bowl did not orchestrate donations.

Last week, the Fiesta Bowl retained a high-profile Southern California attorney, Nathan J. Hochman, specializing in representing individuals and organizations involved in state and federal criminal investigations.

The state Attorney General's Office is looking at whether bowl staff members made illegal campaign contributions. A political action committee called the Playoff PAC, which opposes the way college football crowns a national champion, also has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Fiesta Bowl and two other premier bowl games.

The group claims they violated their tax-exempt status by paying excessive salaries and perks and doing undisclosed lobbying.

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