Tuesday December 5, 2023

Dan Snyder’s Legal Team ‘Making Substantial Progress’ in Libel Lawsuit

  • A former assistant of Snyder’s remains one of his legal team's targets in federal court.
  • The allegedly fake news stories and posts came after Snyder halted dividend payments, according to a source.
dan snyder
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
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The legal team representing Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder has told Front Office Sports it has made progress connecting those in the U.S. to the Indian media company allegedly behind a misinformation campaign.

In recent weeks, Snyder’s attorneys have used the federal court system to compel the release of information from those they believe have links to Media Entertainment Arts WorldWide, the company in New Delhi Snyder is suing. So far, Snyder’s lawyers have filed five petitions, and the bread crumbs have started to lead back to those close to the Washington Football Team and, potentially, the motivations of those individuals.

“We’re making substantial progress, and we’ve been given permission to proceed in the Eastern District of Virginia,” said Joe Tacopina, one of Snyder’s attorneys. “That is allowing us to further our basic belief on who’s behind this misinformation campaign. We have a good faith basis to believe who was behind it and we’re following those leads.”

Since-deleted articles published by MEA WorldWide included, “utterly baseless speculation” and false claims that Snyder had “involvement in sex trafficking, and a purported affiliation with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein,” according to a filing by Snyder’s legal team.

Tacopina declined to name the targets outside those already served with Section 1782 petitions. The most active case so far is in Virginia, where former executive assistant Mary Ellen Blair was among the first recipients of these petitions.  

“People came with statements she had made to them, trying to solicit that information about Dan and what not,” Tacopina said. “She really is someone who is squarely in the middle of it. So, now things are starting to come together for us.”

In court filings, Snyder’s attorneys allege Blair was an “active participant” in the misinformation campaign and was a “source for the false and libelous claims” and offered “bribes to current employees” of the Washington Football Team. But the case involving Blair is also about who isn’t named, like those Snyder’s lawyers believed financed the alleged misinformation campaign.

“Blair possesses highly relevant documents and information relating to …  her own — as well as third parties’ — efforts to discredit and damage [Snyder] and the team,” Snyder’s attorneys wrote in one filing.

Blair said in a declaration filed in September that she “voluntarily resigned” as Snyder’s executive assistant in 2017 and was not involved in the alleged misinformation campaign. 

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“I did not provide information to be published by MEAWW,” Blair declared. “While I do not have a high opinion of Mr. Snyder, I have no reason to believe that he has any connection to Jeffrey Epstein. I have never told anyone that Mr. Snyder has any connection to Jeffrey Epstein. I have never offered, or alluded to the availability of, bribes in exchange for negative information about Mr. Snyder.”

Blair’s current attorney, James W. Hundley, declined to comment.

Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan approved the petition on Sept. 4 that included subpoenaing Blair’s telephone records and text messages. The same order also allowed Snyder’s attorneys to obtain information from Virginia-based real estate firm Comstock Holding Companies. The CEO of Comstock Holdings is Christopher Clemente, the son-in-law of Washington Football Team minority owner Dwight Schar.

The filings in all five of the petitions — including one targeted at Baltimore-based sports investment banking firm Moag & Company — have sought to lay out a timeline of events. 

That timeline includes news of FedEx CEO Fred Smith’s request for the Washington Football Team to ditch its original racist name on July 2 to the second major story in The Washington Post published on Aug. 26 that detailed more allegations of sexual harassment made by current and former team employees. Smith is also a minority owner of the Washington Football Team.

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But what was the trigger for the alleged misinformation campaign? None of the court documents spell that out yet, but there was one event that pre-dated all the bad press — fake and real.  

Snyder, one of the least-beloved owners in sports, is one of the few majority owners to disperse dividends to other owners. In the wake of the pandemic, Snyder notified co-owners in May that the team would suspend this year’s disbursement, according to a source with knowledge of the Washington Football Team’s finances.

Within a few weeks, the first social media posts and articles Snyder’s legal team allege originated in India began to surface. 

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