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Raese calls WVU's account of media contract a 'whopper'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown businessman John Raese's latest letter to West Virginia University came with a title Tuesday -- "The Biggest Fish Tale Ever Told" -- along with new accusations that WVU officials have tried to cover up mishandling a lucrative media rights contract.

Raese, whose radio company unsuccessfully bid on the multimillion-dollar contract, criticized WVU officials for making public statements and then later changing their stories about the media rights deal. He described their explanations as a "whopper."

"It's hard to put credibility in people's statements when they continue to say they misspoke while addressing the public," said Bob Gwynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries.

Last month, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a 24-page report that found WVU athletic director Oliver Luck and other university officials made "significant errors" while evaluating companies' proposals for WVU's third-tier media and sponsorship rights. But the attorney general concluded there was no "intentional wrongdoing."

In response, WVU announced it would re-bid the contract -- initially awarded to IMG College of Winston-Salem, N.C.

In his four-page letter Tuesday, Raese criticized WVU lawyer Bill Hutchens, who was quoted in a Morgantown newspaper saying the university's Board of Governors was informed about the "financial parameters" of the proposed media rights deal with IMG College -- valued at $110 million over 12 years.

A WVU spokeswoman later said Hutchens "misspoke" and only briefed board members in "general terms."

Morrisey's report doesn't mention Hutchens' statements, Raese said.

"Without his contradictory statements to the media and the public, at least one of which is a misrepresentation of fact, there would be no tale to be told," Raese said in his letter to WVU board members.

A WVU spokeswoman said the university received Raese's letter Tuesday but provided no additional comment.

Raese also alleged that WVU Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne apparently violated the state Ethics Act when he disclosed to the media that WVU would net $5 million a year from its contract with IMG, which planned to partner with West Virginia Media Holdings.

Payne, a West Virginia Media shareholder, stood to gain financially from the contract.

State ethics law bars public officials from disclosing confidential information that would further their "personal interests or the interests of another person."

Morrisey's report dismissed Payne's statements to the media as "hyperbole," saying Payne never received specific financial details about WVU's proposed deal with IMG and West Virginia Media, which owns four television news stations across the state.

Raese's letter also jokingly makes references to the movie "Pulp Fiction" (his letter starts with recent developments, then moves back in time) and the television series "Dragnet" (Raese writes that he's presenting "just the facts, ma'am"). Raese also suggests that Morrisey "bring 'Pinocchio' into The Biggest Fish Tale, but we would ask the AG to remember what happens to Pinocchio's nose."

Raese said it's "shameful and disgraceful" that WVU board members seem to be "going along with" university officials' recent statements about the media rights contract.

"This is certainly not the way to build the public trust, and you are participating in all of this," Raese wrote. "As the old saying goes: 'Oh, the web we weave.'"

The university's third-tier media rights cover some nonconference football and basketball games, nonrevenue sports, radio broadcast rights, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.

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


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