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Raese alleges 'veil of secrecy' at WVU

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown businessman John Raese filed a formal protest Friday over West Virginia University's bid for a new media rights contract, while accusing WVU leaders of operating under a "veil of secrecy."

Raese, whose radio company was an unsuccessful bidder for WVU's third-tier media rights, urged the university's Board of Governors to disqualify IMG College from bidding a second time.

Earlier this week, WVU announced it would re-bid the multimillion-dollar contract after West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a report concluding that university officials -- including athletic director Oliver Luck and Board of Governor's Chairman Drew Payne -- violated purchasing and ethics rules while reaching a deal with Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College.

"Luck's overall management of the media rights bid proposal has led WVU to its biggest, most embarrassing procurement mess in school history," Raese told WVU board members in a letter sent Friday.

On Monday, WVU scrapped a tentative media rights deal with IMG College, which planned to partner with West Virginia Media Holdings of Charleston. Morrisey is representing the university amid the contract dispute.

"We need somebody who's external, a third-party independent investigator to look into this," said Bob Gwynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries. "There are just too many things that we do not know."

WVU officials would not comment Friday.

Raese alleged that Morrisey's report withheld numerous documents that would shed more light on how WVU reached the media deal with IMG College - a contract valued at $110 million over 12 years.

At WVU President Jim Clements' request, the school withheld numerous emails written by Luck, Payne and West Virginia Media President Bray Cary, Raese said.

"What other facts have been withheld from the public?" Raese asked in the letter. "Why must WVU continue to operate under a veil of secrecy?"

Morrisey's office stood by the report Friday, saying that WVU could have withheld the entire document. The attorney general also didn't release emails between the president of Raese's company, West Virginia Radio Corp., and a WVU athletic department assistant director, said Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan.

"The university did not hold back any relevant findings in our report," Ryan said. "WVU accepted all of the attorney general's findings and allowed them to be disclosed, a position it was not required to take."

Morrisey's report found "significant errors and sloppiness" by WVU officials when they reviewed bids and selected IMG College to handle the university's media rights. However, Morrisey didn't find any criminal wrongdoing, saying the mistakes appeared "unintentional."

Luck, who headed a three-member committee evaluating the media rights bids, added three new members to the panel amid the review.

Two of the three original committee members didn't get to vote on the contract award. Also, the committee scrapped its scoring system and selected IMG based on "group consensus," according to Morrisey's report.

"Any purchasing professional can tell you that these are not acceptable purchasing practices," Raese said in his letter. "Altering the makeup of the evaluation committee during the process . . . can lead to bigger problems such as bid rigging."

The attorney general's report revealed that Luck updated Payne about the media rights contract -- before and after WVU solicited bids.

Payne serves on West Virginia Media's board of directors and stood to gain financially if IMG secured the media rights contract and subcontracted work to West Virginia Media, which owns four television stations across the state.

In one email, Luck forwarded to Payne a bid proposal from a company that was competing against IMG College for WVU's third-tier media rights. Luck has said his actions were "inappropriate."

Raese, who owns West Virginia Radio Corp. and started criticizing the media rights deal weeks ago, said he will keep his promise that his company will not bid again for the contract.

Raese also criticized a statement Payne issued after Morrisey released the report. Payne said the board would "fine-tune" bidding procedures.

"Are you kidding?" Raese wrote to WVU's board. "The only board process that Mr. Payne needs to work on going forward is a process that would remove him as chairman and as board member. I would like to ask each of you: Are you going to put up with this nonsense."

Raese said WVU board member Dave Alvarez, another West Virginia Media shareholder, should step down.

If they don't resign, Raese said, WVU board members should ask Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to remove Payne and Alvarez. Tomblin, who received a copy of Raese's letter Friday, has said he doesn't plan to ask Payne to resign.

Raese also took issue with Morrisey's conclusion that WVU's decision to sign a non-binding agreement with IMG College was appropriate, even though Morrisey concluded that the contract should be re-bid.

In the letter, Raese noted that the Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences recently re-purchased their schools' third-tier media rights that were previously held by companies such as IMG. The Big 12 Conference -- of which WVU is a member -- could do the same, Raese said.

"The party holding these rights would be in for a big windfall," Raese said. "In this case, it would be IMG College and its subcontractor, West Virginia Media, who stand to make millions if this scenario unraveled."

Morrisey's office said the attorney general tried to interview Raese in Morgantown, but he declined to answer questions.

"Mr. Raese disagrees with the report's finding that the media rights contract did not need to be bid out under law," Ryan said. "Unfortunately, his conclusion seems driven by a desire to reach a pre-determined outcome, rather than an actual legal analysis."

Ryan added that her boss' report is "factual and straightforward, and did not provide colorful findings to advance rumors or random theories . . .  ."

"It is clear no report will prove satisfactory to Mr. Raese unless he obtains the outcome he personally prefers," Ryan said.

Third-tier media rights cover televised coverage of some non-conference football and basketball games, radio broadcast rights, non-revenue sports coverage, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.

Raese's company, West Virginia Radio, has handled WVU football and men's basketball games for decades through a partnership with the WVU-owned Mountaineer Sports Network, which now hold the media rights.

Payne has alleged that Raese doesn't want to give up his "sweetheart deal."

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


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