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Published: Sunday, 4/1/2007

Michigan man denies UT sports scheme

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Detroit-area man who FBI agents say bribed University of Toledo athletes in a point-shaving scheme said yesterday that he doesn t know why authorities were listening to his phone conversations with players.

But Ghazi Gary Manni admitted knowing and talking to Harvey Scooter McDougle, a running back on the UT football team who was charged Thursday in federal court with conspiracy to bribe sporting events.

Yes, I know him, said Mr. Manni, 50, when reached by phone at King Cole Foods, a grocery store in Detroit.

Mr. McDougle, 22, was arrested Friday in Toledo and appeared in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

UT officials announced that he was suspended from the team later that day.

A complaint filed in the court accuses Mr. McDougle, Mr. Manni, and others of bribing UT athletes to influence the final scores of football and basketball games so Mr. Manni could place winning bets with bookies.

Mr. Manni denied being involved in the alleged scandal with the athletes and ended the interview yesterday when his attorney, who was nearby, told him to hang up the phone.

Mr. Manni, who reportedly is a professional gambler, said he moved to the United States from Iraq nearly 30 years ago.

McDougle McDougle
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The affidavit of an FBI agent said calls to and from Mr. Manni s home in Sterling Heights, Mich., were monitored in the investigation from November, 2005, to December, 2006.

The allegations that UT athletes may have participated in an illegal gambling operation by taking bribes stunned Mr. McDougle s former teammates and others who were in the football program.

Ted Rath, 23, a linebacker who was Mr. McDougle s teammate, remained incredulous after learning of the allegations.

To tell you the truth, when the news broke, my jaw hit the floor, said Mr. Rath of Monroe County s Raisinville Township. Absolute shock, because that was the last thing I would have expected to come out of that program. I take a lot of pride in knowing that I was part of that for four years.

Mr. Rath, who played from 2003 through this past season, said Coach Tom Amstutz preached daily about doing the right things in life and being good young men.

It s obviously disappointing something like this would happen to the program I was a part of, he said.

Ryan Klaer, a placekicker who graduated in 1998, also played under Mr. Amstutz while Mr. Amstutz was an assistant to Coach Gary Pinkel.

Coach [Gary] Pinkel always made it clear stuff like that was not to go on. There was no doubt, no margin for error. He always said that these were the rules, and if you saw someone break the rules, turn them in.

Knowing what kind of person Coach Amstutz is, because he was one of my coaches when I played, I m sure he has tried to carry on that same legacy, Mr. Klaer continued. There s just no room in the game for that kind of thing. It s very discouraging, and I m sickened by it. Coach Amstutz has done so well and he s so popular, for something like this to happen under his reign, it just tears me up inside. You wonder why, how, what were they thinking?

UT student Simon Buchman said he did not realize so much money could be riding on the outcome of a UT game. UT student Simon Buchman said he did not realize so much money could be riding on the outcome of a UT game.
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Mr. Rath said he last saw Mr. McDougle in the locker room last week. I know of no one on the team [who] would do anything to throw a game, he said. Knowing Scooter and the way he is, that doesn t seem like something he would do.

Mr. Rath said scholarship athletes get $900 a month for rent and other necessities.

It s basically like living in poverty, Mr. Rath said. We struggle to get by, buy groceries. That s the college lifestyle. Scooter s not out driving in nice cars. Nobody is. That s another reason it s shocking.

But the FBI affidavit states Mr. McDougle acknowledged receiving a car, cash, and other gifts.

Antoine Jones, 14, who lives near Mr. McDougle s former residence on Avondale Avenue, told The Blade on Friday that when Mr. McDougle lived there, two luxury cars and two sports cars were often parked there.

Feelings of disbelief were expressed yesterday by UT students.

It s not something you would normally guess would happen here, said Mike Plath, 23, a junior, who shared a round of beer with friends at Jax Bar & Grill before the Ohio State-Georgetown Final Four basketball game.

This is the MAC it s like UT and Bowling Green.

His fellow classmate Simon Buchman, 20, said reports of the incident have been eye-opening for him because he never imagined that so much money could be riding on the outcome of a UT game.

The federal complaint said one player was offered $10,000 to sit out a football game.

The scheme is believed to have begun in fall 2003, according to an affidavit written by FBI agent Brian Max.

You would kind of expect it more at an Ohio State or other Big Ten school, said Mr. Buchman, a Cincinnati native who played football in high school. I m kind of ashamed.

Mr. Buchman added that he and other fans are concerned about whether the team could be penalized next season if the allegations prove true.

While Jonathan Mahoney, 20, was a bit rattled to hear point-shaving could be happening at his university, he said that so far, the incident has not affected his positive view of UT athletics.

He [Mr. McDougle] represents the minority, Mr. Mahoney said. He then quickly added: I would hope.

Blade staff writers Joe Vardon, Mark Zaborney, and JC Reindl contributed to this story.

Contact Mark Reiter at:markreiter@theblade.comor 419-724-6064.



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