Report: Fowler has been sued over 36 times

Updated: February 20, 2005, 3:15 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- When it sits down March 9 and 10, the NFL Finance Committee will take its first hard look at the career and business dealings of would-be Minnesota Vikings owner Reggie Fowler.

And when it does, the Star Tribune reported Sunday, league officials might find:

  • Fowler or his businesses have been sued more than three dozen times in the Phoenix and Denver areas in a variety of disputes over the past 15 years, according to a search of court records by the newspaper.

  • He has borrowed heavily against several of his commercial properties in the Phoenix area.

  • He is the landlord of a business owner who was involved in a college basketball point-shaving scam many years ago.

  • His divorce records are sealed in Arizona's Maricopa County court.

    "The NFL will want to verify that the prospective owner is strong enough financially so the team will have some stability," said Andy Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. "His entire business career will be laid bare."

    In appearances before reporters last week, Fowler declined to disclose his net worth -- meaning his total assets minus his debt -- but insisted he has the wherewithal to complete the purchase from current owner Red McCombs. They haven't disclosed the sale price, but reports have put the figure at $625 million.

    When the NFL analyzes Fowler's ability to come up with $150 million -- the 30 percent share he would need to put up as general partner under NFL rules -- it will "almost certainly" look at his net worth, Zimbalist told the newspaper.

    Fowler formed his main company, Spiral Inc., of Chandler, Ariz., in 1989. Its holdings include a flight-simulator manufacturer in Centennial, Colo.; a cattle ranch in Haxtun, Colo.; a real estate development company in Chandler; a manufacturer of foam trays for supermarkets in Denver, and a children's indoor playground in Chandler.

    The Star Tribune reported that according to Thomson Gale, a business information service, Spiral generated $314 million in revenue in 2003. However, Thomson Gale told the Star Tribune it got that figure through a telephone call to Spiral and not from actual financial reports.

    Fowler would neither confirm nor deny that number, the Star Tribune reported.

    In addition to Spiral, Fowler has said he owns $300 million in real estate in Arizona and Colorado.

    The Star Tribune said Fowler, like most real estate developers, borrows against some of the property he buys or owns.

    In 1998, the newspaper said, Fowler paid $2.2 million in cash for 400,000 square feet of vacant land in Chandler, which turned into a strip mall and the site of Makutu's Island, an indoor playground for children. A year after the purchase, he obtained a $3 million mortgage on the property, according to Maricopa County records checked by the newspaper.

    Not far from his strip mall, Fowler also purchased two lots for about $100,000 each. The newspaper said records show that Fowler used those lots as collateral to obtain a $1.175 million mortgage.

    The Star Tribune said one of Fowler's smallest business interests -- his 20 percent stake in four "Shammy Man" car washes in the Phoenix area -- could raise eyebrows among other NFL owners, who zealously guard the league's image.

    One of Fowler's partners in the car washes, the newspaper said, is Joseph Gagliano. In 1999, the report said, Gagliano served time in federal prison for being involved in a college basketball point-shaving scandal at Arizona State University.

    Fowler owns the land under the car wash, the Star Tribune said, and his lawyer, Kevin Warren, told the newspaper the two men have a tenant-landlord relationship.

    "I'm not a criminal," Fowler told the Star Tribune. "What (Gagliano) did at Arizona State is not what I do. He's been a good tenant."

    Fowler said he plans to sell the land on which the car washes sit because he plans to move to Minnesota and focus on the Vikings.

    The Star Tribune also reported that many of the more than three dozen lawsuits in Arizona and Colorado involving Fowler or his companies involved allegations of unpaid bulls. It said many of the claims were for small amounts, typically less than $20,000, though a few were for more than $100,000.

    Fowler said he did not consider the number of lawsuits abnormal, given the extent of his ventures.

    "We have several companies, and we have thousands of transactions that go through our companies each day," he told the newspaper. "So as the normal course of business, this does happen."

    As of Friday, Fowler told the paper, he had only three judgments against him totaling $35,000 and three lawsuits still pending in the courts.

    But the Star Tribune quoted one legal expert as saying the number of nonpayment claims could cause the NFL to question Fowler's reliability.

    "For a company with several hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, it is surprising to see this many nonpayment claims," said Todd Wind, a partner in the litigation department at the Minneapolis law firm Fredrikson & Byron. "After all, they need people to do business with them."

    Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press