Contractor owed money for scrapped Panthers practice facility fights bankruptcy facade

When news first surfaced that Panthers owner David Tepper had taken the shell company he formed to build his team’s new practice facility to bankruptcy, we expressed concern that he was playing a financial shell game with companies that provided services to the construction effort. The company owed the most money for a project that was aborted through no fault of its own has expressed concern, too.

Via, Mascaro/Barton Malow contends it is owed $80 million. It claims that Tepper and the Panthers provided the real money and influence to the project that technically was managed by GT Real Estate.

“Virtually every aspect of this case is tainted by the control of Tepper and the Carolina Panthers,” the contractor said in a court filing, later referring to the “murky and suspicious structure that is the Debtor/Tepper/Carolina Panthers enterprise.”

The basic argument is that GT Real Estate is Tepper and the Panthers. And it is. Everything else is paperwork and wand-waving.

Tepper and the Panthers wanted a 240-acre campus with team headquarters, practice facility, retail shops, restaurants, hotel, etc. To make it happen, a separate (but related) company was used. When the project went to hell in a partially-completed handbasket, Tepper took the company to bankruptcy with the goal, frankly, of shorting the people owed money for their work on the scrapped project.

A Wednesday hearing on a fairy esoteric question (GT Real Estate wants to loan $20 million to DT Sports, presumably another separate company that as a practical matter isn’t) featured extensive questioning of a witness regarding the ties between Tepper, the Panthers, and GT Real Estate.

The league’s position on the matter apparently falls somewhere between “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and “what, me worry?” As to the alleged ties between GT Real Estate and the Panthers, a league spokesman said, “Don’t know anything about the creditor’s claim or if it’s accurate.”

If you don’t know, shouldn’t you try to find out?

Again, Tepper has every right to take advantage of a complex system of American laws to take advantage of the ability to protect his $16.7 billion net worth from failed business endeavors. But that doesn’t make it right. And at a time when the NFL is concerned about the impact of Deshaun Watson‘s behavior on the broader image of the league, shouldn’t the league also be at least a little worried about the perception that the oligarchs who own NFL teams can push enough buttons and pull enough levers to activate expensive activities for their own benefit while reserving the right to not pay the full charges if something goes haywire?