NEW YORK - Tim Donaghy started making NBA bets four years ago, and he didn't hesitate to wager on games he worked.
Speaking in code during telephone calls, he tipped off high-stakes gamblers with inside information and recommended which teams to bet on. When his picks hit, he was paid $5,000.
The stunning allegations emerged yesterday as the disgraced former NBA referee pleaded guilty to two felony charges in a scandal that rocked the league and tarnished the integrity of the sport.
"By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games," Donaghy told the judge in a Brooklyn courtroom.
Donaghy, who was released on $250,000 bond, faces a maximum of 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 9 for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce. He also must pay a $500,000 fine and at least $30,000 in restitution to the government.
Commissioner David Stern said the NBA would "continue with our ongoing and thorough review of the league's officiating program to ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place to protect the integrity of our game."
Defense attorney John Lauro said that Donaghy was "relieved this part of the proceeding is over and we look forward to completely resolving this matter in the coming months.
"Tim deeply regrets his involvement in this matter and especially the pain it has caused his family, friends and co-workers."
The plea had been widely expected in recent weeks, but court documents released revealed new details about the depth of the scandal.
Court papers say the 40-year-old Donaghy began placing bets on NBA games in 2003. Starting last December, he began giving gambling associates sensitive information, including which crews would officiate games and how the various officials and players interacted.
His actions "compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games," the government said.
It was highly lucrative for Donaghy. While in Toronto, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., to referee games earlier this year, Donaghy received thousands of dollars in cash payoffs from the gamblers, authorities said.
In one exchange, according to court papers, Donaghy provided a tip about an NBA game on Dec. 13, 2006. That same day, he worked a 76ers game in Philadelphia against the Boston Celtics.
The next day, Donaghy met with the gamblers in Pennsylvania and received a cash payment, authorities say. A person close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing, said the payment was for a successful tip on the 76ers-Celtics game.
The point spread moved two points before the game went off the board - a fairly significant swing - with Boston going from a 1 1/2-point favorite to a 3 1/2-point choice. Boston won by 20.
The two alleged co-conspirators, identified by prosecutors as James Battista, a professional gambler, and Thomas Martino, also appeared in court. They were ordered released on $250,000 bond.
Donaghy was in his 13th season and earned $260,000 last year.He was rated in the top tier of officials, and there was nothing suspicious about the frequency of his foul calls, Stern said.