As of last week, Jeffrey Loria is $1.2 billion richer and South Florida is officially free of the worst owner in professional sports. But Miami officials aren't quite done with Loria. Both the city and the county believe the fine print of the Marlins Park deal likely entitles taxpayers to millions from the Marlins sale to Derek Jeter's group.
Now the city and county are working together with an auditor to dig into the team's books to figure out just how much Loria should pony up. County commissioners are also considering a forensic accounting of the stadium deal to make sure Loria lived up to all of his promises before he bolts.
"Miami-Dade County has identified an independent auditor to review the documents that will be provided to us by the Marlins," says Michael Hernandez, a spokesman for Mayor Carlos Gimenez. "The county has 30 days to review and advise the Marlins if we disagree with the calculations."
The Marlins Park deal, lest you've forgotten, was extremely terrible for everyone involved not named Jeffrey Loria. Without a public vote, Loria finagled a nearly free ballpark at the expense — including interest payments — of nearly $3 billion to taxpayers by claiming his team was hemorrhaging money and would have to leave Florida without a new home.
But someone later leaked the team's books to Deadspin, which found that in fact Loria was making money hand-over-fist by keeping revenue-sharing from other MLB owners and investing almost nothing in player salaries.
So it's no wonder that the city and county — which are both headed by mayors buoyed in part by their opposition to Marlins Park — now want to dig into the Marlins' finances. Under the terms of the Marlins Park deal, Loria has to share 5 percent of any sale profits with city and county taxpayers.
On its surface, there sure seems to be a hell of a profit off the deal Loria recently finalized with Jeter and investor Bruce Sherman. When the stadium deal passed in 2008, Loria valued his franchise at $500 million — less than half of what he now has in the bank.
But county leaders don't expect him to eagerly fork over the more than $25 million he seems to owe by the letter of the agreement. The ballpark deal allows him to heavily mark down his profits with accounting write-offs
such as the cost of closing the deal, taxes, and — most significant — the team's debts.
Loria, by most accounts, always planned to sell the Fish after inflating the franchise's value with a ballpark built by Miami-Dade taxpayers. So when he signed stars such as Giancarlo Stanton to monster long-term deals, Loria shrewdly backloaded them so the debt would be passed on to the next owners — and provide him with a convenient markdown on his bills. Four years ago, the team already claimed $200 million in debt
, the Miami Herald
reported, and that's likely a much higher figure now.
Still, the city and county will try to get what they can. City commissioners approved a resolution at the end of September
directing Miami's inspector general to work with the county on an audit whenever the Fish turn over their documents.
Hernandez says whatever Loria shares will be split between the city and county based on what they paid into the stadium construction.
"The county contributed approximately $378 million towards the stadium and $11.3 million towards the public infrastructure and two small parcels of land. The city contributed $14.75 million towards the stadium and $12.5 million towards the public infrastructure and the parcels used for the stadium," Hernandez says. "The county is working to determine the value of real-estate parcels provided by each side."
That audit might not pose the only tough questions Loria has to face before he catches the next luxury charter jet back to New York. County Commissioner Sally Heyman also wants to review whether he lived up to all of the other promises he made in the ballpark deal.
Heyman has sponsored a resolution asking the county to prepare a "comprehensive report on the status of all of the Miami Marlins' obligations under" the stadium deal, including their pitches for community benefits connected to the project.
"The Miami Marlins agreed to fulfill a number of obligations concerning, for example, the stadium's construction, ongoing operations, and additional community benefits," Heyman's resolution notes.