The University of Toledo point-shaving case may finally go before a jury this fall, almost four years after the first of many trial dates was scheduled.
Indictments were served in May, 2009, and a trial date was established for that December. Since then the case against two Detroit businessmen and eight former UT athletes has been dotted with pleas and delays and a specific question with a complex answer.
What is taking so long?
An illness of an alleged co-conspirator and a conflicting trial date involving his alleged accomplice, combined with the need for attorneys to listen to hundreds of hours of wire taps — some requiring a translator — has caused 14 postponements in four years.
"It’s unusually long, I’d say, but not unprecedented," said attorney Stevin Groth, who represents former UT athlete Kashif Payne.
The most recent adjournment, because alleged co-conspirator Ghazi "Gary" Manni was in a Detroit court last week facing unrelated weapons charges, postponed a July 2 trial until Oct. 29. A jury in the United States Eastern District court of Michigan found Manni guilty Wednesday on two counts of unlawfully possessing a firearm or ammunition. He will be sentenced Oct. 15, two weeks before the start of the UT trial.
Manni’s attorneys did not return a message Friday from The Blade asking if the jail time their client faces in the weapons case could lessen his desire to proceed with a jury trial in the point-shaving case. Earlier in the week Kim Stout, co-counsel for Manni, said the Oct. 29 point-shaving trial date “is a firm date,” implying that minus further hiccups her client and three co-defendants will make their long-awaited appearance before a jury.
Attorney Ray Richards, who represents former UT and Bowsher basketball standout Keith Triplett, anticipates the trial lasting as long as two months because the jury figures to hear “a whole lot of” wire taps.
“At this point the co-defendants have synergy because we’re dealing with the same issue, but it’s not one of those deals where we’re pressed to try the case other than to get it over on behalf of our clients,” Richards said.
Denying charges they conspired to affect outcomes of games are Triplett, Payne, Manni, and basketball player Anton Currie. Four others — co-conspirator Mitchell “Ed” Karam, and football players Harvey “Scooter” McDougle, Adam Cuomo, and Quinton Broussard — pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Another UT athlete, former basketball player Sammy Villegas, has reached a plea agreement in a separate but related case.
Manni and Karam are accused of paying money and providing other things of value to Rocket athletes to influence the outcome of games. The men allegedly would then bet on those games, including $407,000 on UT basketball contests from November, 2005, to December, 2006.
McDougle, a running back, said he received about $5,000 in cash, groceries, and money orders from Manni in exchange for inside information about the Rockets during the 2004 and 2005 football seasons. Broussard, also a running back, admitted to purposely fumbling the ball in the 2005 GMAC bowl game in exchange for $500. Cuomo, a running back who played little, is described in criminal complaints as having provided Manni information on the team to assist in his bets. Karam, of Detroit, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to influence sporting contests by bribery.
Sentencing for all but Karam is scheduled for Aug. 6 but likely will be delayed until the conclusion of the trial.
Ten times between December, 2009 and July, 2012, Judge Julian Cook cited “voluminous” evidence in his granting the request of counsel to delay the start of the trial. Attorneys asked for additional time to analyze hundreds of hours of wire taps, many involving conversations spoken in Arabic. A spokesman for Judge Cook, citing the judge’s policy to not speak with the media about an ongoing case, declined comment for this article.
“In the good old days they’d wire tap, get three phone calls, and off to the races they’d go,” Groth said. “Now, everyone has the capability to get hours of texts and phone calls.”
In November, 2012, almost three years after the trial was first scheduled to begin, Cook gave a new reason for granting a delay. Adjournment this time was given to litigate the competency of Karam. Karam, who is 80 and in declining health, was later found competent to stand trial and pleaded guilty in February. Judge Cook, in agreeing to reschedule the trial, also cited a reason discussed privately in chamber that he said hampered preparation for both sides.
Adjournment No. 13, in Feb. 11, 2013, was the result of a conflicting trial for an attorney working the case. The following delay came about because the scheduled trial conflicted with Manni’s trial on gun charges.
“It’s a little bit like landing airplanes,” Groth said. “You have to prioritize the ones with the least amount of fuel.”
Groth maintains his client, Payne, is innocent and that “95 percent” of the wiretaps do not involve him. Payne, who declined comment for this story, is living in the Philadelphia area and working in cable TV sales.
Triplett, who declined comment, is awaiting the results of the trial before pursuing a professional basketball career, according to Richards. Triplett, who ranks third all-time in scoring at UT, will turn 33 six days before the expected start of the Oct. 29 trial.
“There is a distinct reality that this could take a very long time with the number of witnesses and the amount of recordings,” Groth said. “I have plans for around Thanksgiving. I hope to get to those plans.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.