WASHINGTON — Vincent Viola, the billionaire Wall Street trader President-elect Donald Trump has nominated to be the secretary of the Army, was accused in August of punching a concessions worker at a high-end racehorse auction in Saratoga Springs, according to a police report and local law enforcement officials.
Police officers did not witness the episode. When officers arrived at the scene, however, the concessions worker had a “swollen bloody lip” and said that Viola had punched him in the face, according to the police report.
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Viola, 60, a retired Army Ranger who owns the Florida Panthers hockey team, told police that the man had pushed his wife as she tried to enter a restricted area to get water for a woman who had fainted, the report said. The concessions worker, whose name is redacted from the report, told officers that he did not push Viola’s wife, according to local law enforcement officials.
Greg Veitch, the chief of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, said officers “determined that both incidents involved actions that could have been charged as harassment, a violation level offense in New York state.” But charges were not brought because neither man wanted to press charges and officers had not witnessed the incident, Veitch said.
A spokesman for Viola did not dispute that Viola had punched the worker, and said that Viola had informed Trump’s transition team about the episode.
“Mr. Viola loves his wife and regrets the incident,” the spokesman said in a written statement in response to several questions.
A few hours later, the spokesman sent another statement.
“Mr. Viola will always stand up and defend his wife, and in this case there was a simple disagreement with the matter being dropped and no charges were filed,” the statement said. “Mr. Viola notified the transition team of the disagreement early on in the process and we consider this matter closed.”
The Saratoga Springs Police Department provided a copy of the police report after a reporter filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The secretary of the Army is the senior civilian official overseeing the service’s budget and personnel. By law, the secretary must ensure that soldiers are properly trained and equipped before they are sent overseas.
Viola’s confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.
The incident occurred Aug. 8 at one of the most prestigious horse auctions in the country, where 1-year-olds were purchased for as much as $1.45 million. The sale, held by the horse auction company Fasig-Tipton, was held in a small auditorium where horses were paraded in front of bloodstock agents and owners. That night, Viola’s stable purchased a colt for $200,000 that was the son of a sire named Paynter and a dam named More Oats Please.
In response to a series of questions, Fasig-Tipton said in a statement that it had conducted an internal investigation into the dispute and “determined that any assault allegations were without merit.” Fasig-Tipton did not say whether it was referring to the allegation that the concessions worker had pushed Viola’s wife or the punch, and it did not respond to a follow-up question about what it investigated.
In a news release Dec. 19 announcing Viola’s nomination, Trump’s transition team described Viola as “living proof of the American dream.” A son of Italian immigrants, Viola was raised in Brooklyn and graduated from West Point in 1977, becoming the first member of his family to receive a college degree. He was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, graduated from the Army’s elite Ranger school, and retired as a major before going on to work as a trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange.
He became head of the exchange in March 2001, overseeing its reopening in the weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of that year. In 2013, he became the owner of the Florida Panthers, and around that time also began buying racehorses. According to Forbes, Viola is worth $1.81 billion; he is No. 374 on its list of wealthiest Americans. He is one of four billionaires that Trump has nominated to be in his administration.
In the news release, Trump called Viola “a man of outstanding work ethic, integrity, and strategic vision, with an exceptional ability to motivate others.”
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