Our investigation started with an anonymous tip to the Trouble Shooters. The source claimed four city employees had "created their own benefits package" by using the Alamodome suites as leverage. That same complaint was sent to the City of San Antonio’s Office of Municipal Integrity.
After months of investigating, News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Mireya Villarreal is breaking the details of a “suite deal” that benefited four high-ranking city employees.
The Monster Truck Jam is one of the biggest events the Alamodome holds every year. This January the place sold out on both days.
52 suites for the Monster Truck Jam were supposed to be sold at $900 dollars a piece. That kind of money gets you 16 tickets, 4 parking passes and a food and beverage credit.
But according to that anonymous tip, some suites were being misused and abused by the Alamodome’s General Manager Marc Solis, his boss and Director of Convention, Sports and Entertainment Facilities Michael Sawaya, former Assistant Director Jim Mery, and the Alamodome's Booking Manager Michael Flores.
We asked to speak with every employee named in the original tip; however, the city only allowed us to interview Director Michael Sawaya. But News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Mireya Villarreal was able to get a hold of a tape recorded interview Marc Solis had with a city investigator.
"If we have events, like for the Monster Truck Show, and we have suites that aren't sold, we'll take an opportunity to entertain customers. Show them the things we're doing in the dome,” Sawaya told us.
But after going over hundreds of emails, we figured out Alamodome management wasn't just entertaining potential clients. One of the emails we got a hold of had a chart that showed Marc Solis, Alamodome GM, had at least ten of the 52 suites set aside under his name for the Monster Truck Jam. He told a city investigator he only set them aside once he knew no one would buy them.
"Whatever wasn't sold, whatever inventory wasn't sold we invited some people to into the suites,” Solis said during a tape recorded conversation with the investigator.
The Monster Truck Jam wasn't held until January 14th and 15th of this year. But the information we uncovered clearly shows Solis was already making plans for himself in November 2011.
So just who got to use those suites set aside by Solis?
“Is it held aside for family and friends,” News 4 WOAI’s Mireya Villarreal asked.
“Sometimes we can invite family and friends,” Sawaya answered. “It depends on the event and if we're going to sell out or not."
“How do they get tickets and parking passes to sit in the suite with free food and beverages? How do they get that? Just because they know you,” a city investigator asked during his interview with Solis.
“Because they would be an invited guest,” Solis answered.
“Because they know you,” the investigator followed up.
“Because they would know me, yea, I would think so,” Solis added.
But family and friends didn't just get to hang out in the suites for free. Solis also provided them with free food, beverages and alcohol.
Our investigation shows, on top of the ten suites he had, Solis also told the city investigator Alamodome employee Michael Flores had three suites under his name, Jim Mery eventually ended up with one and so did Director Michael Sawaya.
But the information doesn’t end there. Our research shows there were other favors being handed out for that Monster Truck event. On Saturday and Sunday The RK Catering Group and Aramark got three free suites a piece. These companies are vendors for the Alamodome that provide food and beverages during the events.
"They wanted to do a client entertainment event where they brought some of their staff, their employees, to the Alamodome to watch the Monster Truck Show. And we were able to accommodate them,” Sawaya explained.
But The RK Groups Senior Vice President didn’t say anything about employees in an email he sent to Solis. In fact, he thanked Solis for the initial free suites he’d been given and asked for more. He says his Saturday's "boys only" group had grown from "family and friends" to "clients as well".
So, it does sounds like the Alamodome suites are being used to entertain potential clients. Just not potential clients of the Alamodome.
"This is a way for us, being our partner, to reward them and have them or let them invite their clients, employees or whomever,” Solis said to the city investigator.
But this is more than just a partnership. In that same email written to Marc Solis, The RK Group’s VP refers to this exchange as "awesome little perks". And he promises to take care of "f&b", food and beverage, in the other comp suites Solis had set aside.
So the “suite deal” is simple: Solis provides free Alamodome suites to these vendors and in exchange the vendors hook him up with free food and alcohol.
But that's not where this story ends. The deal with Aramark and The RK Group wasn't the only one Solis had going on. Tuesday night we'll tell you how else he cashed in.
Plus, we'll tell you how these guys still have their job even though they have been personally benefiting from city owned property.