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Published: Friday, 1/21/2011

Former UT football player guilty of sports bribery charge

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT — A contrite and forthcoming Adam Cuomo appeared in federal court Thursday, pleading guilty to conspiracy to influence sporting events by bribery from 2004 to 2006.

The former University of Toledo football player appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook, Jr., after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors and admitting his role in a point-shaving scheme allegedly involving five other UT athletes and two Detroit-area gamblers, Ghazi “Gary” Manni and Mitchell Karam.

On May 6, 2009, an indictment handed up by a grand jury accused Manni and Mr. Karam of paying money and providing other things of value to the Rockets' athletes to influence the outcome of games. The men then would bet on those games — including about $407,000 on UT basketball games from November, 2005, to December, 2006.

Cuomo is the first member of the accused players and gamblers to enter a guilty plea.

“He's totally remorseful for his involvement and the way it's affected his life and family,” Cuomo's attorney, Richard Helfrick, told The Blade before Thursday's hearing.

“He's accepted responsibility and been remorseful from the very beginning,” he said.

Cuomo declined to speak with a reporter through his attorney, but he told Judge Cook during the hearing that he didn't realize what he was doing was wrong.

“Not at the time,” Cuomo said. “I didn't think anything was wrong with it. I was more concerned with getting money for myself so that I could gamble.”

Cuomo added that UT officials had made him and other athletes aware of the dangers of point-shaving and getting involved with gamblers, but he “never thought it would happen to me.”

During the proceedings, Cuomo detailed how he met Manni and Mr. Karam, saying it happened “by coincidence.”

“I walked into [Manni's] store and met his cousin [Mr. Karam], who introduced me to him,” Cuomo told the judge. “He told me the next time I was in Detroit at the casino to give me a call, so I did.”

Starting during the 2004 football season, Cuomo said he provided Manni with “inside information” about the team, and Manni would ask Cuomo whether the team would win or lose that week, based on the point spread.

The first week, Cuomo told Manni he thought the Rockets would lose, and they did.

Cuomo said he correctly predicted the outcome of every UT football game that Manni bet on that season, and the relationship turned out to be very profitable for both men, Cuomo said.

“If he won money, he'd give me money,” Cuomo told the judge. “He'd tell me the spread and I'd give him my opinion. I was pretty accurate.”

Because the scheme was going so well, Cuomo said Manni asked him to introduce him to basketball players “for the same reason that I met him.”

“Eventually that led to them missing shots and shaving points,” Cuomo told the judge.

Cuomo said he knew point-shaving schemes were illegal, but when he first got involved, the plot hadn't developed into a point-shaving operation.

“I never shaved points because I was never on the field to shave points and affect the outcome of games,” Cuomo, a backup running back for the Rockets from 2000-03, told the judge.

Cuomo, 33, of Hagersville, Ont., is living and working as a personal trainer in Canada, his attorney said.

“Once everything is finished, he's looking forward to getting on with his life and putting this behind him,” Mr. Helfrick said.

Cuomo is scheduled to be sentenced April 4, but a representative with the U.S. district attorney's office said that likely will be delayed because Cuomo is cooperating in the case against the other accused individuals.

“Hypothetically speaking, if you have somebody who is cooperating in another case, it is best to wait until a decision has been rendered [in the other case] before sentencing,” said assistant U.S. attorney David Morris, who was the lead prosecutor at Thursday's hearing. “Otherwise, you have no basis for their level of cooperation in the investigation.”

In a separate but related case, former UT basketball player Sammy Villegas reached a plea agreement and pleaded guilty in 2008 to shaving points and recruiting others to join the plot, but is still awaiting sentencing.

All of the former athletes, including Cuomo, could face up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines if convicted of the May, 2009, charges.

Mr. Morris said a status conference for the case against the rest of the accused athletes and the Detroit-area gamblers is set for March 14.

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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