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Agent says ex-athlete at UT will cooperate

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Judge Richard Warren, former guardian for University of Toledo ex-basketball player Sammy Villegas, said he urged Mr. Villegas to tell the truth and cooperate.

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The agent of former University of Toledo men's basketball player Sammy Villegas said yesterday that Mr. Villegas will fully cooperate with federal authorities regarding the point-shaving charges he faces.

Giddel Padilla, president of Next Level sports and entertainment agency in Puerto Rico, said his client was advised by his lawyers not to speak to the media.

"Due to the delicate nature of the case, we can not comment in detail on the matter," Mr. Padilla said in a statement that was translated from Spanish into English.

"For us, the most important thing is that our client is represented as he should be, and we understand that in time everything will resolve itself. Sammy has our support and the support of his family."

Mr. Villegas was charged in U.S. District Court in Detroit in June with taking bribes to shave points in games during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 basketball seasons, his junior and senior years at UT.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Mr. Villegas has permission to travel and is currently playing professional basketball in the Dominican Republic.

On June 13, Mr. Villegas waived an indictment and has a sentencing date scheduled for Nov. 18, signs that point to him having reached a plea agreement. However, the spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit, Gina Balaya, declined to comment on whether Mr. Villegas has already entered a guilty plea.

Mr. Villegas' attorney, John Belanger, did not return a phone message seeking comment yesterday. Mr. Belanger's answering machine in Sterling Heights, Mich., said he would be out of the office until next week.

The federal documents state Mr. Villegas also paid another unnamed player to shave points. The player has not been charged.

Richard Warren, Mr. Villegas' former guardian, said he has tried to reach the athlete but only has a phone number for him in Mr. Villegas' native Puerto Rico, not in the Dominican Republic. Mr. Villegas, 25, is playing for the Cocolos of San Pedro de Macoris and has also played professionally in Puerto Rico.

Judge Warren, a common pleas court judge in Allen County, and his wife, Ann, became Mr. Villegas' legal guardians when Mr. Villegas was 16. Judge Warren has talked to Mr. Villegas several times since he graduated from the University of Toledo in 2006. He said, "Sammy is so free-spirited, loving, innocent. That's the way he's always been."

When Mr. Villegas told Judge Warren in recent months that he and "some others" were talking to federal authorities regarding the investigation, Judge Warren said he told him to "tell the truth and cooperate."

"Sometimes the choices we make, we have to step up to the plate and deal with those choices," Judge Warren said. "You handle it by running from it, or you step up."

When the charges against Mr. Villegas became public on Wednesday, it didn't surprise one Las Vegas bookie.

"Of all teams in recent years, those Toledo basketball games had by far the strongest buzz around Vegas that something funny was going on," RJ Bell of Pregame.com said on his Web site. Mr. Bell is a professional handicapper and a published sports gambling author.

Mr. Bell noted, however, that during the '04-'05 and '05-'06 seasons, UT had a winning record of 30-26 against the Las Vegas point spread, "which would be surprising if rampant game fixing had occurred," he wrote. "By definition, a fixed game is when a player purposely plays poorly so his team loses against the betting spread."

The game prosecutors mentioned in their charges was on Feb. 4, 2006, when the Rockets played a home game against Central Michigan. UT was favored in the game by 15 1/2 points and won by 16, 78-62. Mr. Villegas missed two free throws in the final minute of the game, and the charges state his misses were intentional.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.

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