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Published: Thursday, 8/30/2007

Ex-Rocket Gradkowski, teammates knew gambler; QB says he never heard about alleged point-shaving

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TAMPA - Bruce Gradkowski said he knew the Detroit-area gambler.

So did Lance Moore, Keith Triplett, and, Harvey "Scooter" McDougle, Jr.

According to these former University of Toledo athletes, many of their teammates also knew Ghazi "Gary" Manni, who the FBI links to an alleged point-shaving scandal at UT from 2003 through 2006.

But Mr. Gradkowski, the former Rockets' star quarterback who now plays for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told The Blade that he never heard of any point-shaving scheme while he played at UT.

His last season with the Rockets was in 2005.

"I'm not sure who all knows [Mr. Manni] or how that got about, but one thing I do know is there's a solid program at Toledo," Mr. Gradkowski said after practice last week at the Buccaneers' training facility in Tampa. "I don't care how many people know this guy, it's a solid program still.

"And in my mind, there [was] never anything going wrong at Toledo," the quarterback said.

The FBI charged Mr. McDougle, 22, in March with conspiring with Mr. Manni, a 50-year-old of Iraqi descent who lives in Sterling Heights, Mich., to fix the outcomes of Rockets football and basketball games.

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.

Mr. McDougle, who was the only person charged in the case, previously told The Blade he was innocent of the charges.

"What bothers me is [the FBI] seriously thought I was taking all this money and stuff and was shaving points," Mr. McDougle said last month. "There were a lot of things in [the affidavit] that weren't really going on, and that's the crazy part."

Mr. McDougle is still a student at UT, but has been suspended from the team since the FBI filed the charges.

The charges against Mr. McDougle were dropped April 18, but attorneys on both sides say the investigation is ongoing.

Dawn Clenney, an FBI spokesman in Detroit, said yesterday "there is a possibility, yes, that more charges could be filed." She declined to say whether those charges would be filed against Mr. McDougle, Mr. Manni, or other UT athletes.

Neither Mr. Gradkowski nor any other UT athlete was named specifically by the FBI as co-conspirators or participants in the alleged scheme, but the former Rockets quarterback's name has often been mentioned over the last few months by people close to Mr. Manni and Mr. McDougle.

In earlier interviews with The Blade, Mr. McDougle's father, Harvey McDougle, Sr., wondered, "Why did [the FBI] only charge my son? Why didn't they charge [Mr.] Manni? And why isn't anyone talking to Bruce?"

Mr. Gradkowski's father, Bruce, yesterday told The Blade that his son was not involved in any point-shaving scheme.

Mr. Gradkowski, Sr., also denied allegations that his son was the anonymous player mentioned in the FBI affidavit as being offered up to $10,000 by Mr. Manni to sit out particular games.

Speaking with The Blade from Tampa, Mr. Gradkowski, Sr., said his son only sat out one full game during his three seasons as the Rockets' starter and was held out of that game because "he had a concussion."

The game he was speaking of was UT's 44-14 loss at Fresno State on Sept. 27, 2005.

The quarterback took a blow to the head the week before in the first half of a 42-17 victory over Temple. He returned to the game in the third quarter and led the Rockets to two more touchdowns before he was pulled for the rest of the game.

According to Mr. Gradkowski, Sr., UT team physician Dr. Roger Kruse made the decision to hold the Rockets' star out of the Fresno State game.

"I was in the hotel room when the doctor said, 'I'm not going to put you in uniform because you will end up working your way into the game, and you're not ready,' " Mr. Gradkowski, Sr., recalled.

Even though the Tampa Bay backup quarterback said he knew nothing about point-shaving at UT, he is one of many former Rockets athletes who said they knew Mr. Manni.

But Mr. Gradkowski could not recall how or where he met Mr. Manni and said he didn't know the Detroit-area man frequently gambled on sports.

"You meet someone and you don't have a clue who he is and you get to know him before you know anything else," the former Rocket said.

Mr. McDougle previously told The Blade he met Mr. Manni through another teammate, but he declined to give that teammate's name.

Mr. Triplett, a former UT basketball standout whose last season was 2004-05, told The Blade earlier this month 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. Moore, who was a key wide receiver for UT when he left after the 2004 season and currently plays for the NFL's New Orleans Saints, said he met with Mr. Manni "a few times."

"I met him through other people," Mr. Moore said. "I don't know that it was everyone [who knew Mr. Manni]. People get introduced to a lot of people in sports; he's one of those guys that a lot of people kind of met."

Mr. Moore also said that his roommate in college, former UT offensive lineman David Odenthal, had a father or uncle who was friends with Mr. Manni.

Mr. Odenthal, who now lives in Germany, did not respond to an e-mail from The Blade seeking comment.

Mr. Gradkowski, Sr., said yesterday that Mr. Odenthal was also a roommate of his son's for one year. The younger Mr. Gradkowski also roomed with Mr. Moore and former UT running back Trinity Dawson, according to Mr. Gradkowski, Sr.

The FBI affidavit says that Mr. Manni was introduced to a UT football player in the fall of 2003 at a Toledo cell phone store often frequented by UT athletes.

Mr. Manni then met other UT athletes through that initial football player, according to the affidavit, and Mr. Manni would evaluate the players he met to see if they would participate "in a point-shaving scheme in return for money or other things of value."

Federal agents began electronic surveillance on Mr. Manni's home phone in November, 2005, that lasted through December, 2006.

It was during that time, the affidavit said, when it was discovered "Gary, McDougle, and other co-conspirators were participating in a scheme involving the payment of money and other things of value to University of Toledo athletes" to influence the final score of particular games.

Mr. Manni has refused to talk to The Blade about the alleged scheme, except to say that Mr. McDougle "didn't do anything wrong." But associates of Mr. Manni who work with him at King Cole Foods, a Detroit grocery store, said he was a "generous person" to a UT athlete and became someone "other UT athletes wanted to know."

One King Cole employee, who declined to give his name but spoke with great detail about the personal lives of UT athletes and Mr. Manni, said Mr. Manni was "just a friendly guy who was trying to help the little guy."

"If someone comes up here and says they're hungry, Gary gives them food," he said. "If they say they can't pay their rent, he pays their rent. Is there anything wrong with that?"

When the King Cole employee was asked how Mr. Manni got to know UT athletes, he said the Detroit gambler met them at many functions.

"If you read the reports, they keep talking about a cell phone store," the man said. "But he met them the way anyone meets people. If you're playing a game at a casino next to someone, you might strike up a conversation."

"I'll tell you this. Gary threw a birthday party for someone on UT's campus, and a bunch of athletes were there."

When asked for specifics about the birthday party, the man said, "that's all I'm gonna say."

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



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