Panther owner David Tepper under criminal investigation

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and his real estate company are at the center of a criminal investigation to determine if they misappropriated public funds in their failed attempt to build a practice facility for the NFL team.

The York County Sheriff’s Office said state agents and local prosecutors supported its investigation and the investigation did not mean a crime took place.

“An investigation is simply an investigation and should not conclude that any party has committed any wrongdoing,” York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson and attorney Kevin Brackett said in a joint statement Thursday night, in which Tepper and GT Real Estate, the incorporated company, were called to oversee the construction project.

Tepper’s company denied any criminal wrongdoing and suggested the timing of the announcement could upset an agreement the team had reached with York County to repay more than $21 million, an amount roughly equivalent to the sales tax money that was paid the project to improve the roads in the area has received facility.

“This is a simple commercial matter that will be fully resolved. The underlying disputes arise from contracts negotiated jointly by the parties and are publicly available. The monies paid by the county were managed in accordance with the terms of those contracts,” Tepper’s GT Real Estate said in a statement.

Tepper, a hedge fund manager who is one of the NFL’s wealthiest owners, and the Panthers announced plans for an $800 million practice facility, team offices, sports medicine complex, hotels and entertainment near Rock Hill in 2019.

Both local and South Carolina leaders cheered the investment by offering incentives and were happy to move part of the NFL team out of North Carolina and Charlotte, where the team plays its games about 25 miles away.

But less than two years later, Tepper’s company abruptly stopped work on the facility before the steel superstructure was complete and declared bankruptcy. Work continues on a state-promised interchange, and Tepper’s company is trying to sell the land in the busy, growing region.

Tepper’s company accused Rock Hill of failing to issue bonds, saying the city and other governments failed to come through with funding and other promises.

York County and Rock Hill have disputed those allegations, and what Tepper’s company is responsible for is being challenged in federal bankruptcy court.

York County announced shortly after the bankruptcy that Tepper’s company had spent $21 million of sales tax money that was supposed to be on roads on a “failed vanity project.”

“Rather than fund the balloon construction project themselves, the Tepper defendants took money from York County and its taxpayers,” the county said in a lawsuit.

The criminal investigation was announced just days after the Panthers and York County announced that they had settled that lawsuit. As of Friday morning, the settlement had not been filed in court or approved by a judge.

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