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Raese wants special investigator for WVU media deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown businessman John Raese asked West Virginia University's Board of Governors on Wednesday to hire an independent investigator to look into WVU's pending third-tier media rights deal with IMG College.

Raese also wants the investigator to review scoreboard purchases for Mountaineer Field and the Coliseum in 2008.

WVU and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are examining a tentative agreement the university has signed with Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College. Raese called for an "external investigation, completely independent of WVU," according to a letter sent to board members Wednesday.

"There needs to be a third-party investigator, somebody who's fair and objective and has credibility with all parties," said Bob Gwynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries. "It shouldn't be somebody connected to the university."

WVU purchasing officials are reviewing the media rights contract, while Morrisey is representing the university during the examination.

Raese has alleged that WVU broke state and university purchasing regulations when it agreed to sign a "letter of intent" with IMG College to handle WVU's third-tier media rights, which cover some televised non-Big 12 Conference football and basketball games, radio broadcasts, non-revenue sports, coaches shows, online content, signage and seatback sales.

IMG is negotiating a partnership with West Virginia Media Holdings under the media rights contract, according to sources familiar with the deal. WVU Board of Governors' Chairman Drew Payne serves on West Virginia Media's board of directors and held a major stake in the company until last year. Payne, who stands to gain financially from the deal, has said he played no role in a special committee's decision to award the media rights contract tentatively to IMG College and West Virginia Media.

In his letter to WVU on Wednesday, Raese said Payne has a "duty of loyalty to both entities which creates the conflict of interest.

"As I understand it, he did not notify the Board of Governors of the conflict or the need to be recused," Raese wrote.

The Raese-owned Dominion Post newspaper recently quoted WVU's chief lawyer as saying Board of Governors members were updated on the media rights deal in late January. The Board of Governors didn't have a meeting scheduled that month, according to meeting agendas and minutes.

"Mr. Payne's failure to affirmatively act to recuse himself raises questions whether he violated the state Ethics Act," Raese wrote.

A WVU spokeswoman would not comment Wednesday.

Payne has said he no longer will comment on Raese's allegations. Payne previously accused Raese's company, West Virginia Radio Corp., of having a decades-long "sweetheart deal" to broadcast WVU football and basketball games. West Virginia Radio also was one of seven unsuccessful bidders for WVU's media rights contract -- valued at $110 million over 12 years.

Raese's letter to the WVU board also raised numerous questions about WVU's acquisition of Panasonic scoreboards for the Coliseum and Mountaineer Field five years ago. Raese included excerpts from emails sent and received by former WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong.

Raese's letter said Panasonic's representative, Richard Ballard, pushed the scoreboard deal. Ballard's brother, Ralph Ballard, holds a major stake in West Virginia Media, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

The WVU Foundation initially promised to donate the scoreboards to the university, but WVU wound up paying $5 million for the two boards, according to Raese's letter. The purchase wasn't competitively bid, Raese alleged.

Raese's letter also spotlights connections among WVU officials, athletic director Oliver Luck and men's basketball coach Bob Huggins.

". . . In 2010, Luck gave Huggins his raise, [WVU President] Jim Clements gave Luck his big raise, and Payne and the Board of Governors gave Clements his big raise," Raese wrote. "Meanwhile, the athletic department is bleeding red ink, the football team is setting records for all-time defensive failures, and the basketball team -- oh well."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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