Under Armour founder Kevin Plank was put in the spotlight this week for his cozy relationship with a national TV anchor who covered his company.
Federal court records unsealed in New York show Plank gave a cellphone with a private email address to former Bloomberg news anchor Stephanie Ruhle, flew her on his private Gulfstream jet and sought her advice to manage bad news about his company. The two corresponded regularly, and at all hours, The Wall Street Journal reported.
But anyone familiar with Maryland’s political history will notice another detail in the story. During his February deposition, Plank admitted to recording on his cellphone a conversation with another Under Armour executive without the man’s knowledge or consent.
Maryland has one of the strictest laws in the country when it comes to recording private conversations. The state’s wiretapping law forbids recording someone without their knowledge and consent. That amounts to a felony crime with maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
It’s tougher than federal recording restrictions. Only two other states, Montana and New Hampshire, go so far, an analysis by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General found.
”You understand that’s the law in Maryland, you have to get someone’s permission to record a conversation like that?” attorneys asked Plank during the deposition.
Though a transcript of their conversation was unsealed in federal court in New York, portions of the conversation remain redacted.
”I don’t believe I was aware that I was recording that conversation,” Plank told the attorneys.
He insisted that he had inadvertently recorded his talk with Under Armour executive Matthew Mirchin.
”I feel like I’ve said this a few times,” Plank said. “We could be in disagreement if you’d like, but I didn’t secretly record that conversation with Mr. Mirchin. I might have had my phone on, I might have put it down because we were sitting on my back deck and we were, as I said, drinking whiskey. I might have rested my glass on it, I might have put an ashtray on it because you can hear there’s a click with a lighter going off as well. I don’t know what happened or how it got recorded.
“As I said, I don’t have a practice of doing that. You all have thousands of hours of every inch of audio that we’ve ever had as a company and there’s not a stitch of that happening anywhere else,” he said.
Plank also admitted that he had shared the recording with two people.
”And you sent that audio that we just listened to to Stephanie Ruhle, right?” attorneys asked him.
“I did. And to Jen Smith,” Plank answered.
“And to Jen Smith also?”
“I don’t believe so.”
In the recording, Plank complains that Under Armour’s chief financial officer had suggested they lower quarterly revenue projections, according to the transcript.
Plank could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Lorin Reisner, declined to comment.
Maryland’s strict wiretapping law also forbids any attempt to share an illicit recording — by anyone. State prosecutors have cited the law as the reason they cannot release the secret recordings of former Gov. Larry Hogan made by his late top aide Roy McGrath.
The Maryland law traces back decades and before most everyone had cellphones capable of recording everyday interactions. The issue comes up most often in cases of domestic violence or abuse, say, when a woman secretly records an attack by a partner and presents it to police as evidence of a crime.
Judges have ruled the recording can’t be used at trial because it violates Maryland’s wiretapping law. Prosecutors and advocates for survivors of domestic violence and abuse have lobbied the Maryland General Assembly over the years, but failed to bring the law up to date.
Still, prosecutors generally limit criminal charges to officials in cases of public corruption or those who flout the law despite warnings. A Salisbury University student pleaded guilty to wiretapping and received probation before judgment for recording a meeting in 2018 inside Congressman Andy Harris’ office. The student was part of a group that had been told not to record in the office.
About two decades earlier, Columbia resident Linda Tripp famously ran afoul of the statute when she secretly recorded phone calls with Monica Lewinsky and exposed the sex scandal at the White House.
Plank’s deposition came in a lawsuit filed by shareholders against the Baltimore company. Attorneys questioned Ruhle, too. She now works as a host on MSNBC and business analyst.
“We were friends, and I covered — and I covered his company,” she said.
The lawsuit, filed in 2017 in federal court in Maryland, accuses Plank and Under Armour of artificially inflating the company’s stock price when Plank and others in the company knew sales had already softened. The tactic resulted in shareholder losses. The company’s share price, now around $7, was more than $50 in 2015 while the company enjoyed 26 consecutive quarters of at least 20% revenue growth.
As part of their legal action, shareholders requested that Bloomberg release emails between Plank and Ruhle. A federal judge in New York denied that request, saying that correspondence was protected by a reporter’s privilege.
According to the court records, Ruhle also helped Plank plan ways to counter a negative 2016 report by Morgan Stanley that downgraded Under Armour stock. She questioned the report during a Bloomberg broadcast. A short time later, Under Armour arranged an interview for Ruhle with one of its top athletes, NBA star Stephen Curry.
Reporter Hugo Kugiya contributed to this article.