Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan is accused of hiring a private investigator to follow a liquor authority inspector 100 miles amid a bitter feud over the state’s liquor laws.
Dolan, who has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, has introduced facial recognition software into his arena to identify and ban lawyers suing him.
The bizarre tactic prompted the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to launch an investigation into whether he had violated state laws requiring institutions to serve the general public. After getting wind of the investigation, Dolan allegedly located the authority’s inspector, Charles Stravalle, and ordered a PI to follow him home.
Dolan’s alleged concealment tactics are the latest in a series of clashes with the alcohol authority that could reportedly jeopardize the mogul’s ambitions to build a sprawling $2.2 billion entertainment center in Las Vegas.
The episode marked Dolan’s apparent desire to fire back at the alcohol authority’s investigations, including an investigation into his controversial Lavo nightclub – the sale of which is key to his Las Vegas construction venture.
MSG Entertainment denied that Stravalle’s tail was linked to the sale of the nightclub when DailyMail.com reached out, despite the inspector investigating the Manhattan hot spot earlier last month.
James Dolan, pictured, reportedly ordered a PI to track a state liquor license inspector amid a bitter feud over alcohol licenses
Dolan, owner of Madison Square Garden, pictured, is embroiled in a bitter feud with the SLA over the renewal of the arena’s liquor license
Dolan’s company, MSG Entertainment, has acknowledged that it hired the private investigator but defended the tactic as “a common and lawful practice.”
Stravalle says he realized he was being followed for about 100 miles by a black Chevrolet after seeing the vehicle on its back all day earlier this month.
When he again saw the same car in front of his home in Queens and witnessed the driver pointing a camera at him, Stravalle called the police.
Dolan’s rivalry with the State Liquor Authority inspector reportedly arose in February after Stravalle was ordered to investigate Dolan’s Manhattan hot spot Lavo following an incident in which a reveler was punched in the face.
After an inspection, Stravalle found more than 30 violations, including unapproved fireworks on a meat slicer covered in “stale food,” according to the New York Times.
The potentially dangerous discoveries came as the nightclub, which is owned by MSG Entertainment’s Tao Group, is trying to be sold by Dolan as he attempts to auction off the subsidiary to fund his Vegas megastructure.
But his clash with Stravalle comes amid a years-long rivalry with the liquor authority, which has also seen Dolan publicly mock the body as spoilsports aiming to deprive sports fans of beer.
In addition to his stewardship of Madison Square Garden and numerous New York establishments, Dolan’s company also owns the Knicks and the Rangers.
His iconic arena’s license to operate a New York City sports arena expires in July, and Dolan’s attempts to permanently renew the license have reportedly been a subject of fierce debate within the licensing authority.
At the same time, the New York State Senate is also targeting the garden’s $43 million annual property tax exemption.
James Dolan, right, is the CEO of MSG Entertainment, which also owns the Knicks and Rangers sports teams
The alleged pursuit of Stravalle came not long after the SLA inspector investigated Dolan’s Lavo nightclub in Manhattan. His company MSG Entertainment denied that the move had anything to do with the nightclub
With mounting pressure, Dolan installed facial recognition software, a move he has defended, and banned several lawyers after claiming they were working for the state agency to revoke the arena’s liquor license.
In a contentious petition filed this month with the Manhattan Supreme Court, Dolan’s company reportedly asked a judge to drop the authority’s investigation into its dealings, saying it was a “gangster-like government organization.”
And in a statement to DailyMail.com, MSG’s co-counsel Jim Walden of Walden Macht & Haran said, “MSG didn’t start this. What’s happening at the SLA is just inappropriate – it’s bureaucracy out of control.
“We found credible evidence of actual collusion, where the SLA was used as a weapon to order the plantiffs’ lawyers.
“Now the SLA is blocking our attempt to get all the evidence. We will expose SLA misconduct through the legal tools we have to defend MSG.”
The filing points to Stravalle’s crusade against Dolan and also alleges that he launched an “intimidation campaign against MSG.”
“Stravalle spent almost half of the time asking questions that were in no way related to the alleged purpose of the SLA investigation,” the file said, citing a recent interview the former agent had with Dolan.
Instead, he asked questions based on speculative media reports or shared his own views on the Venue Policy. He was belligerent and hostile throughout the interview.’
Dolan’s use of facial recognition software to keep his legal opponents out of Madison Square Garden came as his feud with the liquor board escalated.
But he defended the tactic in an interview with Good Day New York in January, saying, “If you sue us, we ask that you please don’t come until you finish your argument with us — the end.”
“And yes, we use facial recognition to enforce that.”