Ex-UT star Triplett says gambler well-known; Manni met players at birthday party

8/3/2007
BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Detroit-area gambler at the center of the alleged point-shaving scandal at the University of Toledo was well known by many UT athletes, according to former Rockets basketball star Keith Triplett.

And Harvey Scooter McDougle, Jr., the former UT football player who was once accused in the case, received support this week from both Mr. Triplett and the gambler himself.

Mr. Triplett, a Bowsher High School graduate who last played for the Rockets in the 2004-05 season and finished his career as the program s third all-time leading scorer, told The Blade this week everybody know[s] Ghazi Gary Manni, the man who the FBI alleged conspired with Mr. McDougle in a scheme to fix the outcomes of UT football and basketball games. The charges against Mr. McDougle were later dropped.

Mr. Triplett said neither Mr. Manni nor Mr. McDougle ever approached him to shave points, and said Mr. McDougle wasn t guilty of shaving points either.

Triplett
Triplett

[Mr. Manni] is a normal person like anybody else; he s no one special, Mr. Triplett said.

Mr. Triplett, who records show is a refuse collector for the city of Toledo, said he met Mr. Manni about three years ago through a local friend who didn t even play sports. He said he and Mr. Manni talked about street [stuff] and not about sports.

Mr. Manni, of Sterling Heights, Mich., has acknowledged that he is the man referred to as Gary in a criminal complaint filed March 29.

The FBI alleged that Mr. McDougle bet on a UT football game, engaged in point-shaving, and recruited other university football and men s basketball players to fix the outcomes of games. In exchange, the complaint alleged, the players received cash, cars, and were entertained by Mr. Manni at a Detroit casino.

Charges against Mr. McDougle were dropped on April 18, but the FBI says the investigation is still ongoing. Mr. McDougle acknowledged his friendship with Mr. Manni to The Blade earlier this week, but said he wasn t guilty of the charges brought against him.

This whole [investigation] was more against [Mr. Manni] than me, Mr. McDougle said. [The FBI] thought I knew more than I did, and they were trying to get him. To me, he was just another friend, and that s it.

Mr. Manni declined to give his side of the story when reached this week at King Cole Foods grocery store in downtown Detroit where his wife said he works. But he did say Mr. McDougle was innocent.

Scooter didn t do anything wrong, said Mr. Manni, 50, who previously told The Blade he moved to the United States from Iraq about 30 years ago.

Other grocery store employees, who identified themselves as relatives or friends of Mr. Manni but declined to give their names, said if Mr. Manni were guilty, he would ve been charged by now.

One of them said Mr. Manni bets on football, but he didn t bribe UT athletes to shave points. The man also said Mr. Manni met several of the UT athletes at a birthday party.

The FBI has continued to decline comment on the case, other than to say it stands behind the original affidavit and the investigation is ongoing.

Federal agents said the point-shaving conspiracy began in the fall of 2003, when Mr. Manni was introduced to UT athletes by a Rockets football player he met at a cellular phone store in Toledo. Mr. Manni would generally invite the players to visit him in Detroit, according to the complaint, and would treat them to dinner and pay for them to gamble at local casinos.

The complaint also said that Mr. Manni offered a UT football player up to $10,000 to sit out particular games.

Mr. McDougle told The Blade this week that he occasionally met Mr. Manni for dinner and also met him at a casino, but said he paid for his entertainment at the casino with my own money.

And the King Cole Foods employees who know Mr. Manni said he never offered a UT player $10,000 not to play in a game. One of those employees said we might ve taken a few [UT athletes] to dinner and if that s a crime, indict us.

UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs said last week that, if true, the point-shaving scheme at his university was an isolated incident and not a product of the ethos of this department.

Dr. Jacobs and Mike O Brien, UT s athletics director, yesterday declined comment.

With anything going on with Scooter, we re just not going to make any statements on it, said Paul Helgren, UT s assistant athletics director for media relations.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.