Chattanooga Lookouts owner calls Wamp claims of extortion 'absurd'

Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd / Jason Freier, managing owner of the Lookouts, addresses a news conference.

After emails leaked last week accusing him of making a racist and sexist comment during a meeting with Chattanooga Lookouts team leadership in 2015, Hamilton County mayoral candidate Weston Wamp doubled down Monday on his own counter-allegations that the team's managing owner used the emails for extortion.

The owner, Jason Freier, rejected Wamp's allegation.

"The claims are ridiculous, they're absurd," Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier said during a phone call Monday. "I can definitively say that no one in our organization or anyone affiliated with us or on our behalf has ever made any made any threats. We have never shared any of the emails. What we've said over and over again is that we're working with the community to bring this great project and development to Chattanooga. We're doing our level best to not be drawn into the political fray."

Over the past several weeks, Wamp has repeatedly criticized plans to use tax dollars, funded mostly by revenue generated by surrounding development, to finance a new multiuse stadium for the Lookouts at the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site.

"I knew a month ago that my life would be a lot easier if I just sat down and shut up, and I made the willful decision not to do that because I knew I was being bullied, threatened, and I feel like there's real concerns for taxpayers," Wamp said by phone on Monday.

Wamp, a Republican, faces Democrat Matt Adams on Thursday's ballot.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Lookouts stadium funding getting closer to reality)

On Friday of last week, email messages dating back to 2014 between Wamp, his father - former U.S. House Rep. Zach Wamp - and current and former team owners were leaked to county officials and members of the media.

The leak includes a 2018 email in which Freier claims that Wamp made a racist and sexist remark to a team executive, who is Black, and a visiting female staffer during a meeting in January 2015. The remarks are not detailed.

Freier wrote the email to managing owners of the Lamp Post Group, Wamp's former employer, on April 9, 2018, in response to a Chattanooga Times Free Press opinion article published the same day in which Wamp criticized the idea of using taxpayer funds for a new Lookouts stadium.

Wamp has denied making racist or sexist comments and claimed the leak was part of an attempt to "coerce me to support a new stadium."

Freier "has threatened for weeks to release emails regarding a private business investment made by Lamp Post Group eight years ago," Wamp said in a statement Friday. "Under Tennessee law, those efforts amount to extortion of a candidate for public office by Freier and others working in support of a new stadium."

Freier, meanwhile, has said that neither he nor his company played a role in releasing the emails.

The messages also detail conversations Wamp had about taking a position with the Lookouts as the Lamp Post Group considered an investment in the team. That job never materialized.

Wamp outlined his qualifications in a Sept. 10, 2014, email to John Woods, a former Lookouts investor who federal regulators have since accused of running a Ponzi scheme. The message came a few months after Wamp narrowly lost a primary challenge against incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah.

"On the long-term side, having me as the face of the franchise locally would allow us to build the media and political goodwill to get a stadium done," Wamp wrote. "Although I came just short of getting elected, I won the support of virtually every journalist, columnist and editorialist in Chattanooga, and when the time comes, I can run the publicity campaign to build a new stadium and lead the redevelopment of an entire part of town."

Zach Wamp was also bullish about his son, saying in a Sept. 10, 2014, email to Woods that he "would be a great long-term associate for you and has tons of equity in politics, media and sports."

"If I can help in any way, I will, but my singular goal is for Weston to transition back out of politics (for now at least) into a direction that keeps his juices flowing," Zach Wamp wrote. "The Lookouts and your business interests are in his sweet spot."

Adams, Wamp's Democratic opponent in the race for Hamilton County mayor, argued that the emails demonstrate "an overwhelming sense of entitlement" on the part of Wamp.

"My opponent felt that he deserved an executive position in the organization because of who he is," Adams said. "When he was later denied a job with the Lookouts, after allegedly making inappropriate comments, my opponent changed his mentality on the stadium project, which he claimed in his conversations with the Lookouts would be great for Chattanoogans."

Wamp has repeatedly said the stadium projects as proposed, then and now, are different, which is why he responded to them differently. He has denied any personal animosity toward local owners of the team.

He told the Times Free Press on Monday that he has received warnings from owners and "friends of the Lookouts" that Freier would retaliate if Wamp continued to speak out about the project.

"They all sent very clear signals that I was to stand down or Freier was going to go nuclear," Wamp said.

In a pair of text messages Wamp received on July 1 and July 5, which he shared with the Times Free Press under the condition that the name of the sender not be printed, one local team owner told Wamp that "Jason and 10 other people have tried to get me to have you be quiet on this issue."

"My response has been, Weston is a good friend of mine, I trust him and he ran on public education and has strong opinions on it," the sender said. "We may not see eye to eye on this, but I am not going to try to sway his opinion. Saying that, Jason is one of the most shrewd business people that we know. I wouldn't put anything past him at this point. He believes you are torpedoing this thing in the 9th inning."

The local owner said on July 5 that they agreed the deal probably wasn't the best for taxpayers, but they asked Wamp if this was a fight worth having before assuming office.

"You have stood your ground and people know you have a backbone and will fight for Hamilton County schools," the sender wrote. "I just worry about continue (sic) to poke at Freier. He's ruthless and will try to personally drag you into mud."

Wamp is running for Hamilton County mayor as his sister, Coty Wamp, seeks election as Hamilton County district attorney - whose job it would be to prosecute crimes such as extortion. Coty Wamp said she would not get involved in a case involving her brother and there are procedures in place to ensure a criminal complaint involving a relative goes to another district attorney's office or another local agency.

Coty Wamp's opponent, Democrat John Allen Brooks, said Weston Wamp's accusation sounds more like political speech, adding that it would take quite a bit of proof to prove extortion.

"To say that there is extortion implies that somehow there's some criminality involved, and I don't see anything in this that has any criminality," Brooks said.

District Attorney Neal Pinkston, who lost the Republican primary to Coty Wamp in May, responded to Times Free Press questions with a statement.

"Generally speaking, if a citizen feels that he/she is a victim of a crime, they don't announce it publicly, they file a police report," the statement said. "If that officer believes the allegations have merit, the officer will present it to the magistrate or the DA for further review. To date, our office has not received such a complaint."

Pinkston in 2018 prosecuted County Commissioner Tim Boyd for allegedly threatening a political opponent with damaging information if he didn't drop out of the race. The charges were later dismissed.

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.