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Bush got special deal in Jaguars, suit claims


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 20, 1998

Jeb Bush jumped at the invitation in 1989 from Tom Petway, a millionaire insurance executive and Republican fund-raiser, to join an elite group of Jacksonville investors seeking an NFL football team.

By commiting $525,000 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bush figured his name recognition would soar in a North Florida city rabid for pro football. Besides, the NFL franchise just might make him some money.

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Bush got special deal in Jaguars, suit claims

Instead, his 1 percent stake in the Jaguars became the target of lawsuits alleging Bush received a special deal: a money-back commitment on his football investment.

The lawsuits were filed by Jacksonville stockbroker Ronald Belton, a prominent African-American and a member of the State Community College Board. The suits also claim Petway pushed Belton and others aside, while ushering Bush and wealthier investors into another group that ultimately won the franchise. Petway declined comment. The Jaguars say the suits lack merit.

Bush denies any special treatment. He said other investors dropped out early because they balked at the ongoing costs of attracting a franchise. "People got tired of writing these $50,000 checks," he said.

By 1994, when the franchise bill came due, Bush said he was stretched to raise $525,000 for the Jaguars, so he took out a loan. "It was out of proportion to my financial situation," he acknowledged. "But I felt after years of fighting to get the team, it would inappropriate for me not to step up to the plate."

Perhaps he was inspired by his big brother. Texas Gov. George W. Bush invested $606,000 in 1989 to become managing general partner of the Texas Rangers. When the Rangers were sold last spring, Bush's stake came to about $15-million, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Jeb Bush opted to simplify his holdings prior to his campaign for governor, so he sold his Jaguars stake back to the ownership group in June 1997. "I just told them to pay me back for what I put in," Bush said. The transaction netted Bush a taxable gain of about $58,000.

"I was more interested in being part of the pursuit to get the team," he said. "Jacksonville had a really low self-image. And today, because of the football team, a lot of people have greater aspirations about their community."

Belton and his attorney, Claudia Baker, say they want their day in court with a jury, but otherwise decline comment. It's unclear when the case will get to court.


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