Sky Blue FC, the New Jersey women’s professional football team jointly owned by Governor Phil Murphy, has been linked to an alleged immigration fraud conspiracy that sparked a federal investigation, according to court documents filed Friday.
Murphy and his wife, First Lady Tammy Murphy, were not accused or accused of any wrongdoing in the documents. No Sky Blue employees either.
Instead, the charges focus on Global Premier Soccer, a now defunct youth soccer organization from Massachusetts that ran clinics and tournaments in the United States.
According to the charges, GPS chief operating officer Justin Capell worked with other company executives and employees, as well as an outside attorney, from at least 2016 to 2019 to defraud multiple federal agencies by filing fake visa applications for professional women’s soccer teams, according to the indictment filed Friday by the US attorney in Boston.
Visa applications were submitted on behalf of at least seven professional clubs, including Sky Blue, according to court documents.
The petitions indicated that the Visa beneficiaries would work as scouts or coaches for the pro teams, but according to the records they were actually employed as youth football coaches for GPS.
Capell has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud, according to the Boston Globe.
GoLocalProv, a Rhode Island news agency, published 2016 emails in Phil Murphy asking another Sky Blue co-owner if it was okay to speak to a lawyer about a scouting agreement with Capell’s organization .
“Absolutely. Good luck,” Murphy replied.
That was more than a year before Massachusetts-born Murphy was elected governor of New Jersey. Murphy previously stressed that he has no say in the day-to-day running of the team. And although his wife has taken on a bigger role on the team, she didn’t do so until 2019.
Murphy’s office on Saturday postponed a comment on Sky Blue that the Murphys share with former Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Steven Temares.
The team said in a statement, “In 2018, Sky Blue employees became aware of an investigation related to Global Premier Soccer. The team has not received any further information about the investigation since then and has had no relationship with GPS since 2016. “
Along with the Boston Breakers, Sky Blue was one of the most active partners in the immigration agreement, filing petitions for about 40 visa applicants on behalf of Global Premier, according to company records reviewed by the Boston Globe.
Sky Blue was previously scrutinized when former players reported in 2018 that the team’s play and accommodation facilities were poor, including practice fields with no showers or laundry services and rental houses with “plastic bags for windows”.
The Murphys swore change. Tammy Murphy became the team chair and pledged to “take an active role in club activities” in 2019.
Since then, Sky Blue has added upscale player apartments, a revamped front office, and improved practice facilities. The team also began playing at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison and made their league playoffs.
The Murphys lost $ 1.1 million on Sky Blue in 2019, down from $ 823,000 the previous year. According to the couple’s tax returns, they have lost more than $ 7 million on the team since purchasing the franchise.
Phil Murphy, a multimillionaire, former Wall Street executive and avid soccer fan, said the couple bought Sky Blue to give young girls a place to make their dreams of professional ball a reality.
NJ Advance Media reported last month that records show that in 2020 Sky Blue was approved for nearly $ 150,000 in a federal forgivable loan from the coronavirus relief initiative passed by Congress at the start of the pandemic.
The team said the loan was necessary due to losses due to the pandemic and that the association had gone through the proper application process.
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Brent Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.