Bexar County Judge Calls For Investigation Into Possible MLS Move Into Austin
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is asking for an investigation into allegations of fraud between Major League Soccer and the owner of the Columbus (Ohio) Crew, who said he wants to move the team to Austin.
If the team were to move to Austin, it would greatly reduce San Antonio’s chances of landing a brand new franchise as part of the MLS expansion because the two cities are so close, Wolff has said. The judge sent a letter to MLS Commissioner Don Garber asking for clarification on San Antonio’s standing when it comes to an MLS franchise.
MORE BELOW | Read the letter from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff
Anthony Precourt, owner of the Columbus Crew, said on Oct. 17 he wanted to move the team to Austin if a new stadium wasn’t built in Ohio. San Antonio is one of 12 cities that could get an MLS expansion team. Four new teams will be chosen from these cities. Meanwhile, Austin never put in a bid.
“I do think we were misled by saying this would be a fair process and at this point it doesn’t look to me like it’s a fair process.”
Precourt reportedly has the option to move the team to Austin under an agreement when he bought the Columbus crew. San Antonio officials were not aware of that when they began a major league soccer push, as Wolff stated in his letter.
"Over the past two years, we have pursued a franchise by purchasing Toyota Field and submitting an application. It has been widely reported that Mr. Precourt, whom you appointed to the Major League Soccer expansion selection committee, obtained a legal right to relocate the Columbus Crew to Austin when he purchased the franchise in 2013. If these reports are accurate, this presents a clear conflict of interest. Had Bexar County officials been aware of such a right, we would not have invested in Toyota Field."
In 2015, San Antonio and Bexar County put up $18 million to purchase Toyota Field, home of the city’s current minor league team. Wolff says he’s asked for the investigation by the Bexar County district attorney to see if there is any fraud.
“I don’t know where this may lead. It could lead to a criminal indictment. It could lead to a lawsuit to recover funds from them. I just don’t know yet,” he said. “I don’t know what our legal rights are and that’s what the district attorney will be determining.”
In a statement, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg echoed Wolff’s concerns.
“While it is clear that the market, fans and bid team make San Antonio the most compelling case for MLS expansion, we need to know all of the facts about the situation. In response to the recent news stories regarding the potential relocation of the MLS team, Columbus Crew, from Ohio to Austin, I have asked the City Attorney and staff to review the matter and assess its potential impact to the City, as well as the local bid for an MLS team.”
Wolff also told Garber in his letter he’s still committed to bringing an MLS team to San Antonio. “Bexar County has invested a great deal of money, time, and energy in this pursuit. As these troubling facts have become public, I have a duty to the taxpayers of Bexar County to question this process and its fairness,” he said.
MLS representative Dan Courtemanchetold TPR it received Wolff’s letter and said MLS is preparing a formal response.
“Although that review is not yet complete, we strongly disagree with Judge Wolff’s assertion that we misled either him or any public official about the prospects for San Antonio acquiring an MLS expansion team,” he said.
A timeline for the potential Austin move was not set by Precourt.