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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Attorney: Federal probe benched

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE PROJECTS EDITOR

DETROIT - An attorney for former University of Toledo basketball player Kashif Payne confirmed for the first time yesterday that Payne missed his senior season with the Rockets because of his involvement in a federal point-shaving investigation.

Stevin Groth, a Toledo-based attorney representing Payne, said "it's fair to say" Payne did not play for the Rockets in 2007-08 because he was a target in a wide-ranging probe into alleged point shaving during UT men's basketball and football games.

Groth is the first person to confirm the cause of Payne's absence from the basketball court.

UT officials consistently said Payne was not with the Rockets that season for personal reasons.

"Ultimately the specter of federal allegations of point shaving made it appropriate for all involved for Kashif to step back," Groth told The Blade. "He very much would've liked to have played."

Payne is charged along with five other former UT basketball and football players and two Detroit-area men in a conspiracy to influence sporting contests by bribery. Attorneys for the accused and an assistant district attorney joined Judge Julian Cook in a pretrial conference yesterday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said the government was prepared to move forward with a trial scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Aug. 3. She told the court that negotiations for plea arrangements were ongoing with some of the alleged co-conspirators, but did not elaborate.

In addition to Payne, other former UT athletes accused are Harvey "Scooter" McDougle, Jr., Adam Cuomo, and Quinton Broussard from the football team, and Keith Triplett and Anton Currie from the men's basketball team.

The two Detroit-area gamblers charged were Ghazi "Gary" Manni and Mitchell Karam.

Another former UT basketball player, Sammy Villegas, faced bribery charges in 2008 but waived an indictment hearing by signing a bill of information - an indicator that he struck a plea agreement. His sentencing has been postponed several times and is scheduled for Aug. 31.

When asked about a possible plea deal involving Payne, Groth said: "Our door isn't closed to a resolution."

"I would always consider what's best for my client," Groth said.

"Candidly, I still believe in my client's innocence, as does he."

Groth said Payne, who was the Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year in 2006-07, never altered his own play to affect the outcome of any Rockets game.

According to the 30-page indictment filed on May 6, Manni and Karam paid money and provided 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 Karam wagered about $407,500 on UT basketball games from November, 2005, to December, 2006, each of them detailed in the court documents.

Groth said Payne lived with Triplett and Villegas when all three played for UT during Payne's freshman season in 2004-05.

"He got caught up with a larger group of people who all got involved in some fashion in this mess," Groth said.

Payne and McDougle were the only men charged who forfeited their

spots on their respective teams because of their alleged involvement in the scandal.

McDougle was the first person charged in the alleged point-shaving scheme in 2007. Those initial charges were dropped, but he was not permitted to join the Rockets for his senior football season that fall.

Groth said Payne received "pressure" from all sides - UT, the NCAA, and federal authorities - to forgo his senior season.

The Rockets went 19-13 in Payne's junior year and have gone 22-72 since, cycling through two coaches during that span.

The only other attorney to speak with The Blade yesterday in Detroit was Ray Richards, who is representing Triplett. He said that his client has not yet been offered any specific plea agreements.

"From what they handed over in discovery, we don't see anything that's damaging to Keith," Richards said. "That's one of the reasons we're moving forward [toward a trial]."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6559.



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