York County officials investigating use of public money by Tepper, GTRE regarding failed facility

WBTV Investigations raised questions about bizarre bond deal since September.
Months after construction was stopped, investigators are trying to determine if any laws were violated during the construction process.
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 10:33 PM EST
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - The York County Sheriff’s Office released a statement Thursday evening announcing an investigation into the transfer of and use of public money by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and his real estate company.

York County and the City of Rock Hill awarded millions of dollars to Tepper and GT Real Estate to build a modern, state-of-the-art practice facility and team headquarters in the area, but those plans were scrapped and construction was halted this spring.

In a joint statement, Sheriff Kevin Tolson and 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said that the investigation “is simply an inquiry and should not create any inference that wrongdoing has been committed by any party.”

Rock Hill and York County taxpayer dollars used during the failed project have been a point of contention during the GTRE bankruptcy proceedings, although the sides have recently come closer to settling.

Both Rock Hill and York County each contributed more than $20 million to GTRE during construction of the project even as the $225 bond deal stalled. The bonds were never issued, signaling the end of the partnership.

Previous Coverage: Bad Bonds - The failed Panthers-Rock Hill project had major questions from the start.

A WBTV Investigation in September on the failed Panthers-Rock Hill practice facility and headquarters raises questions about whether the project was doomed from the start. The investigation found the amount of bond money agreed to by Rock Hill was far more public investment than other similar projects and simultaneously sidestepped key oversight steps.

A complaint filed by Rock Hill claimed that time and again GT Real Estate refused to backstop the bonds. Ultimately, GTRE agreed to back up to $7.5 million worth of the $225 million in bonds. Despite that, the parties moved forward with the project even as Rock Hill accused the GTRE of failing to provide crucial information predicting the revenue from the project that would end up paying back the bonds.

Previous Coverage: Panthers terminating agreement with city of Rock Hill for new facility

The full statement reads as follows:

“An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the transfer to, and subsequent use of public money by the Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and GTRE, the company created to oversee the construction of the Panthers training facility, was initiated by the York County Sheriff to determine whether any laws were violated during that process. The Attorney General, Solicitor Kevin Brackett’s Office and the State Law Enforcement Division have partnered with us to provide additional resources and assistance and we will work together to ensure that all relevant information is gathered so that a fair and just outcome can be reached.

An investigation is simply an inquiry and should not create any inference that wrongdoing has been committed by any party.

This office will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

WBTV has done extensive reporting on the failed project, including on the massive bonds that the City of Rock Hill agreed to.

The Panthers engaged in a back-and-forth with the city and York County regarding financing of the facility before Tepper ultimately made the decision to terminate the plans in April 2022.

Since then, both Rock Hill and York County have sought legal action against Tepper’s GT Real Estate.

In response to the investigation and a WBTV request for comment, GT Real Estate issued the following statement:

“It would be unfortunate if the recently announced settlement between GTRE and York County were somehow undermined by politically motivated leaks. The timing of these leaks is all the more curious in light of this settlement.

This is a straightforward commercial matter that is being fully resolved. The underlying disputes arise under contracts that were jointly negotiated by the parties and are publicly available. The funds paid by the County were handled consistent with the terms of those contracts.

The settlement fully compensates York County and settles all its claims related to GTRE’s bankruptcy case. To this end, $21.165 million has been escrowed for months to reimburse the County with interest.”

The 245-acre site of the proposed facility, on which the incomplete project still sits, was listed for sale earlier this year.

Related: Bad Bonds: The failed Panthers-Rock Hill project had major questions from the start