In 2020, when the Raiders football team moved to Las Vegas, it was able to walk away from a $189 million debt to the taxpayers of Oakland and Alameda County.
In exchange, the city and county received the team’s training facility near Oakland Airport, valued at $24.6 million and worth, by one account, possibly double that. of this amount.
The lopsided exchange raises questions about the state and federal tax treatment of the canceled debt and the negligence of public officials who signed an agreement that constituted a gross and inexcusable expenditure of public funds – questions for which local, state and and federal are required.
The intricate details and history of the deals between the Raiders and the Oakland Coliseum Authority were revealed in journalist Jason Cole’s investigation published by this news agency earlier this month.
They highlight another example of politicians using public money to kowtow to wealthy team owners rather than spending the funds on needed government services. Sports teams don’t pay their way. They can build civic pride, but public subsidies are not financially justified. Not for the Raiders then – and not for the Oakland A’s now.
In the case of the Raiders, the new details add insult to injury to the financial damage the residents have already suffered since the team’s departure. It is well known that when the team recently left the City and County of the Bay Area, taxpayers were stuck with $55 million in debt to finish paying off bonds issued for stadium improvements to attract the Los Angeles team 25 years ago.
Now it turns out that officials also let the team slip away from paying off two loans to those same taxpayers. The loans, originally totaling $64 million, were to cover costs associated with moving the team to the Bay Area and constructing training facilities. By the time the team left town again after the 2019 season, the debt, with interest, had grown to $189 million.
Under a key 2005 amendment to the deal, the team was allowed to give up both loans in exchange for handing over the academy. A source familiar with the negotiations told Cole that the amendment was structured to free the Raiders from state and federal loan forgiveness tax obligations. However, a tax law expert tells us that the Raiders should still be liable for those taxes.
So the first key question is whether the Raiders should have paid taxes on the loan forgiveness. The second question is whether they did. Raiders officials declined to speak to Cole. Federal and state tax and law enforcement authorities, including California Attorney General Rob Bonta, are expected to investigate.
Equally concerning is the refusal to speak or allegations of ignorance by elected officials who served on the Coliseum board – including Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, former Supervisor Scott Haggerty, former Councilor Oakland City Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente and businessman Ed DeSilva — and the rock wall by key officials familiar with the deal, including City Attorney Barbara Parker and former attorney and executive director Deena McLain.
The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury should call them and compel their testimony under oath — then let Bay Area residents know how this sleazy business came about. And District Attorney Nancy O’Malley is expected to launch an investigation to determine whether laws designed to prevent the misuse of public funds have been violated.
The public owes an explanation. And anyone who abused his authority must be held accountable.