Former University of Toledo basketball player tried to fix game, authorities say

8/7/2008
BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

A former University of Toledo men s basketball player has been charged by federal authorities in Detroit with accepting bribes for point shaving in a 2006 game.

The felony charge against Sammy Villegas, a 25-year-old native of Puerto Rico, stems from the Rockets 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

It was part of the conspiracy that Samuel Aviles Villegas and other persons known and unknown to the United States Attorney, did agree upon and carry into effect a point shaving scheme to fix University of Toledo men s basketball games, according to the federal charge first filed in June. The formal charge is conspiracy to influence sporting contests by bribery.

[Villegas] did accept the payment of money and other things of value, in exchange for using his ability as a player to control events on the basketball court during games to attempt to ensure that the University of Toledo basketball team would score a certain number of points determined by the point spread, the charge stated.

The court documents state that other participants in the conspiracy placed wagers on certain UT men s basketball games knowing the games were fixed.

Mr. Villegas, according to federal officials, met with a conspirator five times between Nov. 30, 2005, and Jan. 11, 2006, in Toledo, Detroit, and Hamtramck, Mich. He also made or received five phone calls to a conspirator.

Three of the calls took place on Feb. 4, on the afternoon before a Rockets home game and one occurred later that night after UT defeated Central Michigan University.

On or about February, 4, 2006, [Villegas] played in the men s basketball game in Toledo, Ohio, between teams from the University of Toledo and Central [Michigan] University, and during the game intentionally missed two free throw attempts, the federal charges stated.

The charge also stated that Mr. Villegas acted as an intermediary in paying money to another University of Toledo men s basketball team member who was a participant in the conspiracy.

Sammy Villegas played basketball for the University of Toledo from the 2002-03 season through his senior year of 2005-06. The charge stems from his last two seasons with the Rockets.
Sammy Villegas played basketball for the University of Toledo from the 2002-03 season through his senior year of 2005-06. The charge stems from his last two seasons with the Rockets.

If convicted, Mr. Villegas faces five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. He remains free on a $10,000 bond.

Mr. Villegas is scheduled to appear at a hearing in U.S. District Court at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in Detroit.

UT spokesman Larry Burns said the university will cooperate with the investigation if we re asked to and if authorities need information.

Beyond that, we don t see us playing a role at this time as a university or athletic department, Mr. Burns said. We didn t find out about this until [yesterday]. Our initial reaction is of concern for the player and his family.

A phone message left for Mr. Villegas attorney, John Belanger of Sterling Heights, Mich., was not returned.

Mr. Villegas is the second former UT athlete to be charged with conspiring to point shave in the last two years.

Former UT football player Harvey Scooter McDougle, Jr., was accused in March, 2007, of participating in a gambling scheme. The charges were dropped, but a U.S. attorney s spokesman said the case remains open.

The Detroit gambler cited in a McDougle affidavit as being connected to the point-shaving conspiracy, Ghazi Gary Manni, said yesterday he was unaware of the charges brought against Mr. Villegas.

Manni said he knew Mr. Villegas, just as he knew many other UT athletes, but did not enter into any conspiracy with Mr. Villegas to shave points.

Seriously, one person cannot change the outcome of a game, Mr. Manni said. They re just assuming things.

Mr. Villegas graduated from UT in 2006 with a bachelor of science degree in individual programs from the university college. He has played professionally for the last three years and currently plays for Los Cocolos de San Pedro Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

Mr. Villegas, a shooting guard, was the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2002-03. He had a good sophomore season in 2003-04, averaging 13.8 points per game. He was invited to try out for Puerto Rico s Olympic basketball team in the summer of 2004 and was named a team alternate.

In Mr. Villegas junior and senior seasons, though, his level of play fell off. Those are the years he has been accused of conspiring to influence games.

In 2004-05, Mr. Villegas scoring average dropped 4 points from the previous year and his shooting percentage fell drastically, from 45 percent to 37 percent. He told The Blade before his senior season in October, 2005, I got a big head. I thought I d accomplished something, but I hadn t. I got kind of lazy and didn t work as hard. It affected my attitude and everything went down shooting percentage, 3-point shooting, scoring, minutes. There s nobody to blame but myself.

His senior season Mr. Villegas was mostly a nonfactor. He averaged just six points and 1.8 rebounds per game with a 35.4 shooting percentage. His poor play was mystifying to the UT coaching staff.

Former UT coach Stan Joplin did not return a phone message seeking comment last night. But in late January, 2006, Coach Joplin told The Blade, I just can t explain what has happened to Sammy. ... It s killing us because he gets a lot of open shots. He s not making them and it affects the rest of his game.

This has been going on now for almost two years. He can t figure out the problem, and I can t figure it out. I m not pointing the finger solely at Sammy because none of our upperclassmen are consistently playing all that well. But if he makes just one or two more shots every night we re probably winning some close games instead of losing them, Coach Joplin said at the time.

In the Feb. 4, 2006, game, Mr. Villegas came off the bench to play 21 minutes against Central Michigan. He took one shot from the field, a 3-pointer, and made it.

According to the game s play-by-play, he was fouled with 27 seconds remaining and the Rockets ahead by 16 points. The point spread printed in The Blade that day listed the Rockets as 15 point favorites.

Mr. Villegas missed both free throws. Central Michigan attempted two shots before the final buzzer sounded and missed both. UT won 78-62.

Sports writer Joe Vardon contributed to this report.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:mfulton@theblade.comor 419-724-6160.