Chattanooga Lookouts add 11 to ownership group after former minority investor accused in Ponzi scheme

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Fans enjoy the game between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Rocket City Trash Pandas at AT&T Field on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn. After having their 2020 season cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and having their opening day game postponed due to weather the previous day, the Chattanooga Lookouts hosted the River City Trash Pandas for their first home game in over 600 days.

The Chattanooga Lookouts on Wednesday named 11 new members to its ownership group, all local investors and many of them well known in the city.

Jason Freier, who is continuing as managing owner of the Lookouts, said the team remains interested in pursuing a partnership for funding a new multi-purpose venue.

"A public-private partnership is the way these get done," he said.

The new members of the ownership group come as the interest of former minority investor John J. Woods of Marietta, Georgia, was purchased by the Lookouts after accusations by federal regulators this summer that he ran a Ponzi scheme amounting to $110 million.

In October, a federal judge in Atlanta agreed to let the club buy the 20.1% share held by the accused businessman for $1.87 million.

Freier said the situation opened up an opportunity to grow the number of local investors in the team. The new owners are:

- John Foy, chief executive of Noon LLC.

- Tom Griscom, founding partner of Chattanooga-based Q Strategies.

- Wade Hinton, CEO of Hinton & Co.

- Bryan Johnson, U.S. Xpress Enterprises' chief of staff and former Hamilton County Schools superintendent.

- Bill Kilbride, Tennessee Valley Authority chairman.

- Travis Lytle, senior vice president at SmartBank.

- Todd Phillips, president and co-founder of Noon Management.

- James Wingard, CEO of Wingard Quality Supply.

- Rich Mozingo, Chattanooga Lookouts president.

- Andrew Zito, Lookouts vice president.

- Jennifer Crum, a Lookouts manager.

They join current investors Casey Hammontree, who is increasing his investment; Joseph Wingfield; William Stribling; and several associated with Lamp Post Group, including Ted Alling, Steve Cox, Allan Davis, Chad Eichelberger, Barry Large, Shelly Prevost, Ronald Ramsey and Tiffanie Robinson.

Freier also increased his investment and remains the team's largest owner.

On Wednesday, new Lookouts owners gathered at the club's existing home at AT&T Field on downtown's riverfront.

TVA Chairman and former Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce chief Kilbride noted that the Lookouts trace the team back to 1885.

"This is a long history," he said, adding that now is a key time for the Lookouts.

Griscom, former executive editor and publisher of the Times Free Press, said baseball is part of the community and brings people together. He added that he wants to see the team play championship baseball and "that's No. 1."

Hinton, third place finisher in the race for Chattanooga mayor in March, said he recalls going to Lookouts games as a youngster.

"I remember what the Lookouts meant to me as a kid," he said.

Freier called the past couple of years "really challenging" for the club. First, Major League Baseball went through a contraction of minor league teams. A New York Times article in 2019 mentioned the Lookouts as a potential contraction possibility, though MLB quickly stated the newspaper's list of likely casualties was inaccurate.

Then the coronavirus hit in 2020. That season and part of 2021 was lost, Freier said.

In August, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Woods, 56, and the Chattanooga-based Southport Capital investment firm of six counts of securities fraud. The complaint said the scheme went by the name Horizon Private Equity and collected more than $110 million from over 400 investors with promises of 6-7% rates of return.

The SEC said the investments "are worth far too little for there to be any realistic prospect that the Ponzi scheme will be able to pay back existing investors their principal, let alone the promised returns."

Both Woods and Southpoint Capital deny wrongdoing, but Freier said all of Woods' interest in the club has been divested.

In terms of the future of the team's home, AT&T Field has been identified by MLB as having deficiencies.

"That's got to be high on the priority list," Freier said about improving wherever the Lookouts play in the future.

The South Broad District Plan, crafted by the city in 2018, identified the 141-acre former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site as a potential location for a new multi-use facility as part of an array of housing and commercial development.

Freier cited other cities such as Nashville, Huntsville, Alabama, and most recently Knoxville as examples of private-public financing of new minor league stadiums.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.