Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon is under federal criminal investigation as prosecutors try to determine if federal law was broken in conduct surrounding recent allegations of sex trafficking that have been made public in lawsuits, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
Last week, the company, McMahon and a former WWE executive were sued by a former employee alleging those crimes.
McMahon has also discussed being under federal investigation and having a phone seized by federal officials, a senior-level WWE executive and another personal friend told NBC News.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the federal probe.
Though McMahon denied the accusations in last week’s suit, he resigned one day later as executive chairman of the board of TKO Group, WWE’s parent company. He also stepped down from the TKO board of directors and no longer has a role with WWE.
Representatives for McMahon, TKO Group and WWE did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment on the federal investigation. Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.
The 78-year-old’s exit is a major shake-up in the professional wrestling empire that for decades has seen McMahon and his family members at the helm of the company.
Janel Grant, a former WWE employee, filed a lawsuit on Jan. 25 against McMahon and former WWE executive John Laurinaitis, claiming she was “the victim of physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault and trafficking at WWE.”
McMahon disputed the allegations, saying in a statement last week: “I stand by my prior statement that Ms. Grant’s lawsuit is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and is a vindictive distortion of the truth.”
McMahon has not been criminally charged in connection with the allegations in the lawsuit.
A lawyer for Laurinaitis said: “My client vigorously denies the allegations raised against him in this lawsuit. We will respond in the appropriate forum eventually.”
McMahon is no stranger to allegations of sexual assault — and has survived several during his reign at the company.
In 1992, Rita Chatterton, the first female referee in the company, accused McMahon of rape. Though he denied the allegation, he reached a settlement with her last year. McMahon also faced federal conspiracy charges alleging orchestrated steroid use among WWE wrestlers, and he was found not guilty by a jury in 1994.
McMahon had stepped down as CEO of WWE in 2022 after an investigation found that he had paid nearly $15 million to four women over 16 years to quiet claims of sexual misconduct.