USATF CEO Max Siegel Investigated for 'Lavish' Expenses, Leadership Style

USA Track and Field CEO Max Siegel is being questioned for his spending and leadership style by the Washington Post, which published an investigative report on Friday that describes Siegel as a "polarizing figure" in the track and field community.

The Washington Post interviewed 40 people who have worked with USATF and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents and emails to compile a report that investigates Siegel's pay, his "lavish spending," and "unethical nonprofit leadership."

Post writers Will Hobson, Steven Rich, and contributing reporter Tim Bontemps report that under Siegel's leadership, USATF has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to an Indianapolis marketing firm that advertised itself as "a Max Siegel company." Siegel's spending habits were also reported to include first-class flights, private jets, and luxury hotels. All of Siegel's spending habits are approved by USATF's board of directors who are paying Siegel $1.7 million in salary and bonuses, which is reportedly seven times the average for a CEO of a nonprofit with a similar budget such as USA Swimming.

In a sport where many professional athletes struggle to earn enough to make a living, Siegel's spending habits as the leader of a nonprofit organization were questioned numerous times.

"We've got athletes who are struggling to make ends meet to stay in the sport, and meanwhile we have a CEO who is living lavishly," said David Griefinger, a former member of the USATF board counsel. "That's not leadership. That's Marie Antoinette."

The details of USATF's long-term sponsorship agreement with Nike, worth a reported $500 million, was also the subject of investigation in the report. In 2014, Siegel announced the 23-year sponsorship agreement as a "game-changer for the sport." Athletes immediately criticized the length of the contract, which is unusually long for sponsorship deals. Executives at other running apparel companies also noted that the rights were never put on the open market. USATF approached Nike itself.

"I know of no other sponsorship deal, not tied to naming rights of real estate…for a term of that length. The risk is just too great," former USATF CEO Doug Logan wrote in a 2014 blog post. "In 2040, the Federation will still be paying for the lack or judgement of its current leadership."

USATF board chairman Steve Miller told The Post that the idea to approach Nike about the long-term sponsorship was not Siegel's but two former Nike executives, Adam Helfant and Chris Bevilacqua, who are friends with Miller and asked to be introduced to Seigel. They reportedly led negotiations on the deal with Nike. According to The Post, their role had not been previously disclosed as USATF's 2014 990 tax form showed that the organization paid their firm Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures $505,000 in 2014 as part of $23.75 million in commission payments through 2039.

In 2011, Seigel was the subject of eviction proceedings in New York for failure to pay rent on a luxury apartment. In 2012. his racing company, Revolution Racing, was sued for failure to pay rent. According to the report, the IRS placed a lien on the company for more than $300,000 in unpaid taxes.

In April 2013, the IRS filed a lien against Siegel for more than $200,000 in unpaid taxes. Siegel paid off those taxes in October 2014, and the lien was released. Siegel paid off the taxes six months after the Nike deal was signed.

According to documents obtained by The Post, Siegel saved on sales taxes when he asked USATF Chief Operating Officer Renee Washington to order him a computer. 

Siegel emailed Washington a photo of a MacBook laptop with the message: "order this for me so I may save on sales taxes etc. Once the computer arrives I will pay USATF for it." 

Chief marketing officer Jill Geer responded to comment on behalf of Siegel. "Max requested that an employee with technical expertise assist him in the purchase of computer equipment," she wrote. "His request had nothing to do with the avoidance of sales tax."

She declined to comment when informed of Siegel's email which referred to saving on sales tax.

Siegel's aggressive interactions with former employees and members in the sport were also documented with shared text message and email exchanges. Notably, former Olympian John Drummond shared a text exchange between himself and Siegel, who directly threatened Drummond after he refused to assist Siegel in spreading the word on an initiative. In 2013, there was a proposal to remove the CEO's power to decide where national championships are held and instead give the power to volunteer committees. Siegel opposed the proposal and asked Drummond to influence others on his behalf. When Drummond refused, citing that athletes should have a say in the decision, Siegel told him over text message that he felt Drummond was acting as a "double agent."

"I personally feel at this moment like you are full of [expletive] and a double agent," Siegel wrote. "I have trusted you and you are [expletive] with fire. You are allowing me to be personally attacked. And this [expletive] Vail of 'athletes rights' is a crock of [expletive]."

"wow!….Dude…You are tripping," Drummond wrote back.

"I WILL [expletive] anyone up that goes after me personally," Siegel wrote.

This exchange was one of several accounts detailed in The Post's report of Siegel's interactions with USATF employees and others associated with the organization.

Former employees revealed that Siegel "berates" staff members who disagree with him.

"They deliberately bully people…It was grotesque," former retail and marketing manager Amy Henson told The Post. She also provided a copy of an email in which Siegel wrote to Henson in reference to Geer. "Jill is a bitch," Siegel wrote.

Throughout The Post's report, Geer provided comments on behalf of Siegel, who he declined to be interviewed for the story.

FloTrack's Dennis Young reported earlier this week that Siegel extended his powers when the CEO suspended the entire Youth Executive Committee. The committee was suspended by Siegel when he invoked USATF bylaw 12-A-9. The committee was suspended for slow-rolling meet administration software that it said was not prepared for the demands of youth meets. USATF signed a deal with Athletic.net to register its athletes, which turned out to be faulty. In response, the committee circulated a petition that told USATF feeder meets they didn't have to use Athletic.net. The Executive Committee is now claiming that Siegel's actions were in violation of USATF bylaws and federal law.

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When Shadrack Kipchirchir lines up for the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships on March 30 in Aarhus, Denmark, the 30-year-old American is hoping for the nastiest weather that the Danish city can provide.

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