6 former University of Toledo athletes charged in point-shaving scheme

5/7/2009
BY MEGHAN GILBERT
AND ZACH SILKA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

DETROIT - An alleged point-shaving scheme involving University of Toledo athletes included nearly 130 phone calls and about a dozen meetings on UT's campus, Detroit-area restaurants, a casino, bank, and hotel parking lot.

The calls and meetings, which occurred from Nov. 19, 2005, to Dec. 19, 2006, are detailed in a 20-count indictment filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Detroit that charges six former UT athletes and two Detroit-area men with conspiracy to commit sports bribery.

Six of the defendants also were charged with unlawful use of interstate facilities.

The federal charges are against former UT football players Adam Ryan Cuomo, 31, of Hagersville, Ont.; Harvey Lamont "Scooter" McDougle Jr., 24, of East Cleveland, Ohio, and Quinton James Broussard, 25, of Carrollton, Texas. The former basketball players charged are Keith Junior Triplett, 29, of Toledo; Anton Du'ane Currie, 25, of Okemos, Mich., and Kashif Lashon Payne, 24, of Chester, Pa.

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The Michigan men charged in the federal indictment are Ghazi "Gary" Manni, 52, of Sterling Heights, Mich., and Mitchell Edward Karam, 76, of Troy, Mich.

The U.S. attorney's office will work with the lawyers of those indicted to encourage them to turn themselves in to authorities within the next week, said Gina Balaya, a spokesman with the office.

According to the 30-page indictment, Manni and Mr. Karam paid money and other things of value between December, 2004, and December, 2006, to the UT football and basketball players to influence the outcome of games. The men would then bet on those games.

Manni and Mr. Karam wagered about $407,500 on UT basketball games from November, 2005, to December, 2006, each of them detailed in the court documents.

The indictment does not detail any football games.

"Let me say from the beginning that we take this matter seriously; however, we also consider it past history," UT President Lloyd Jacobs wrote in a letter to the campus community yesterday. "We will continue to cooperate fully with all law enforcement agencies. Working together, it is my hope that this matter can be resolved quickly and justly for all parties involved. We believe that this action brings closure to the investigatory portion of this process."

Dr. Jacobs reiterated past comments that his desire is to have a "culture of compliance" throughout the university and everyone can be proud of the measures the university has taken toward that end. He noted the university's internal "thorough assessment" of the athletics department two years ago and said he "can say without question that the department's ethos is strong."

"Be assured that these allegations do not fit within the university's values system and we have turned the page on this matter," he said.

Federal authorities said Manni and Mr. Karam paid the UT players money or other things of value to decide whether an attempt should be made to "fix" a game, to recruit other players to join the conspiracy, and to use their ability as players to control events to ensure UT would score a certain number of points determined by the point spread for betting.

Richard Helfrick, an attorney representing former running back Mr. Cuomo, said when reached by phone yesterday afternoon he hadn't seen a copy of the indictment.

He said the charges are "not unexpected in light of the previous complaints against [his client]."

The attorney representing Mr. McDougle also said he had not seen a copy of the indictment. James Burdick declined to comment further. Mr. McDougle was the first UT player charged in the alleged point-shaving scheme, but the charges were dropped a month later.

Stevin Groth, an attorney representing former UT point guard Mr. Payne, also declined comment.

Other attorneys for those indicted could not be reached yesterday to comment.

Mr. Cuomo, who was a senior backup running back in 2003 for the Rockets, told FBI agents he began the point-shaving scheme with "Gary," who is believed to be Manni, according to the criminal complaint unsealed two weeks ago. It was originally filed last August.

He said he provided information to "Gary" about upcoming UT games to help "Gary" place bets on the games.

Mr. Cuomo also introduced "numerous" UT men's basketball and football players to "Gary" for the purpose of asking them to participate in point-shaving, according to court documents.

Mr. McDougle, who was the first player charged in March, 2007, for recruiting UT football and basketball players for Manni, told The Blade in August, 2007, that Mr. Cuomo first introduced him to Manni. Mr. McDougle was a freshman running back in 2003.

In that 2007 interview with The Blade, Mr. McDougle said he and Manni were friends, but that he never shaved points or asked other UT athletes to do so.

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

He also said then that the investigation was more against Manni than him.

Manni and two others - Mr. Karam and Ricardo Alfredo Valdes, 43, of Ocala, Fla. - also were charged yesterday in a separate indictment of 19 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit sports bribery.

Federal authorities said Manni and Mr. Karam paid money to professional jockeys, including Mr. Valdes, to gather inside information and to influence or to attempt to influence final results of races at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida.

All of the UT players indicted in the alleged point-shaving scheme are no longer at the university.

Mr. Broussard played for the Rockets for four seasons, from 2002-05.

A former Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year and two-year starter at point guard, Mr. Payne played three years for the Rockets before taking a leave of absence for unspecified personal reasons two weeks into his senior season in the fall of 2007.

Mr. Payne was named to the All-MAC West division preseason team in 2007, but did not attend the conference media day along with the rest of the honorees.

At the time, then-UT coach Stan Joplin said he had gone home because of some personal problems. Mr. Payne missed 1 1/2 weeks of practice before briefly returning to the team and then leaving again.

Mr. Triplett, a Bowsher graduate, last played for UT during the 2004-05 season and finished his career with 1,814 points, the third most in school history.

Mr. Triplett rejected a potential plea agreement by federal authorities in December, 2007, according to his attorney at the time, Ethan Vinson.

Mr. Vinson said federal agents asked him if Mr. Triplett would accept a plea deal, but would not disclose what charge he would plead to or what legal action might be taken against him if he refused.

Mr. Triplett had previously told The Blade that he and many other UT athletes knew Manni, but said he was never approached by the gambler to shave points.

Mr. Triplett said he met Manni in 2004 through a local friend who "didn't even play sports." He said he and Manni talked about "street [stuff]" and not about sports.

Mr. Currie played four years for the Rockets, ending with the 2005-06 season.

Former UT basketball player Sammy Villegas is mentioned in the indictment for having telephone conversations and meeting with Manni, but he is not among those indicted.

Villegas was charged last summer with accepting bribes to shave points in a 2006 game. He waived an indictment hearing by signing a bill of information, an indicator that he has reached a plea agreement.

His sentencing has been delayed twice and is scheduled for June 18.

Villegas and the players indicted yesterday could face up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for the point shaving-related charges.

Larry Burns, UT's vice president for external affairs, echoed Dr. Jacobs' statements that the university is looking to put this situation behind it.

He said there was no indication that the coaches or administration knew about what allegedly was going on and that UT is on a path to better things.

"I think the reputation will be determined on how we react and what the future holds for us," he said.

"I think our future is very bright with our new coaches and new facilities."

Former eight-year football coach Tom Amstutz resigned at the end of the season in 2008, while basketball coach Mr. Joplin was fired in March, 2008, after 12 seasons.

Mr. Burns said the university has kept the NCAA abreast of the investigation as it was informed. He was unsure if or how the NCAA administration would choose to follow up.

While the court documents do not detail how or why they started investigating the alleged point-shaving scheme, federal officials do give a glimpse of how they got their information.

Manni's telephone conversations were monitored for more than a year and the indictment notes the time and date of the calls and who was on the other end, whether it was a UT athlete or Mr. Karam.

On the dates listed, there were multiple conversations on most and some in the double-digits, including 10 calls on Nov. 20, 2005, a dozen on Dec. 21, 2005, and eight on Feb. 4, 2006. There were basketball games played on each of those dates.

The indictment also notes in-person meetings including a couple at the Glass Bowl, Laikon Cafe in Detroit, and Huntington Bank in Hamtramck, Mich.

Meetings also occurred, according to the indictment, in the parking lot of a Ramada Inn in Warren, Mich., a Bob Evans restaurant in Hamtramck, and King Cole Foods grocery store in downtown Detroit where Manni works.

The indictment also lists specific times and dates when those involved used interstate telephone facilities between Michigan and Ohio.

"Today's charges shine a light into the dark corner of illegal sports bookmaking and reveal the unfortunate consequences that the influence of money from betting can have on the integrity of both athletes and athletic contests," U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said.

Andrew Arena, a special agent in charge of the Detroit division of the FBI, said the case "is an example of how organized crime can influence intercollegiate athletics.

"These charges are an important step in maintaining the integrity of intercollegiate athletics and a message to the athletes who decide to participate in such activities," he said.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.