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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

4 ex-Rockets expected to plead guilty in alleged point-shaving scheme

More than three and a half years after he was originally accused, former University of Toledo football player Harvey "Scooter" McDougle, Jr., and three other former Rocket athletes are expected to plead guilty to charges stemming from an alleged point-shaving scheme at UT.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said attorneys for former UT football players Mr. McDougle, Adam Cuomo, Quinton Broussard, and former Rockets basketball player Anton Currie revealed during a federal court proceeding in Detroit Wednesday that their clients had signed or soon will sign plea agreements in a case that dates back to March 29, 2007, when Mr. McDougle was first charged.

The men, along with former UT basketball players Kashif Payne and Keith Triplett -- as well as Detroit-area gamblers Ghazi "Gary" Manni and Mitchell Karam -- were charged in a conspiracy to influence UT sporting contests by bribery for a period of about two years, beginning in December, 2004.

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.

Ms. Mohsin declined to disclose what Mr. McDougle, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Broussard, and Mr. Currie will plead guilty to and said no court date was set for them to enter their pleas. Attorneys for the men could not be reached for comment, but Mr. McDougle's father, Harvey McDougle, Sr., told The Blade that his son pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and would not face jail time.

"I think he's looking at a year's probation," the senior Mr. McDougle said. "He's basically excited to just be able to put this behind him. It's messed him up for years already."

The March, 2007 charges against "Scooter" McDougle were dropped as a procedural matter in April, 2007, but the ongoing federal investigation cost Mr. McDougle his senior football season with the Rockets.

Many of the charges stem from evidence gathered through an authorized wiretap of Manni's cell phone that started in November, 2005, and lasted for more than a year. Mr. Triplett, Mr. Payne, Mr. Currie, and Mr. Broussard were charged with shaving points, while Mr. McDougle and Mr. Cuomo were accused of working behind the scenes in the scheme.

According to court documents, Mr. Cuomo admitted to federal agents that he and Manni hatched the UT point-shaving plot. Mr. McDougle, who allegedly accepted gifts in return for providing inside information to the gamblers and encouraging other UT athletes to participate in the scheme, told The Blade in 2007 that he met Manni through Mr. Cuomo.

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

In The Blade's report in March marking the three-year anniversary of the initial charges filed against Scooter McDougle, he told The Blade that while not guilty of what he was charged, he had made some mistakes.

"Even talking with [Manni]," he said. "I was talking to somebody I shouldn't even have been talking to."

Ms. Mohsin said the next court proceeding for Mr. Payne, Mr. Triplett, and the two Detroit gamblers is set for May 14.

Stevin Groth, the Toledo attorney who is representing Mr. Payne, said his client "hasn't taken that step yet" toward accepting a plea agreement. But Mr. Groth said the other former athletes "could, as a part of their deals, whether they are telling the truth or not, put my client in jeopardy."

"That's something we'll have to weigh as we move forward," said Mr. Groth, whose client is the only other UT athlete to lose playing time because of the federal investigation.

Mr. Payne's senior basketball season of 2007-08 was wiped out by the federal investigation even though he wasn't charged until May, 2009. All of the other former Rockets had left the school before they were charged.

Ray Richards, who is representing Mr. Triplett, said that for now his client was moving toward a trial.

"He wants to play basketball," Mr. Richards said of Mr. Triplett, who played professionally in Europe after his final season with the Rockets in 2004-05.

"But it's difficult for him to get picked up by any team with this hanging over his head. … In an effort to clear his name and continue to proclaim his innocence, he's gone through a rough time as he continues to try to get this thing resolved," Mr. Richards said.

Mr. Triplett's UT career was over before the FBI obtained a wiretap on Manni's cell phone.

Plea agreements for at least some of the defendants have been speculated on and expected for months. The latest announcements, if they hold steady, will bring the total of former UT athletes to plead guilty in the scheme to five.

Former Rockets basketball player Sammy Villegas, charged in June, 2008, with shaving points and recruiting others to join the plot, reached a plea agreement later that year and is awaiting sentencing.

Mr. Villegas was accused of intentionally missing two free throws in a game as a senior on Feb. 4, 2006, against Central Michigan, among other things.

Larry Burns, vice president of external affairs at UT, said the university was not surprised by Wednesday's revelations and in many ways was "glad that this is coming to closure."

"Indeed, we are saddened, mostly because of the lives this has impacted for the student-athletes and their families," said Mr. Burns, who is serving as UT's spokesman regarding the point-shaving charges.

A wide-ranging internal assessment of UT athletics was completed in the summer of 2007, with university President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs announcing that the point-shaving case against Mr. McDougle was an isolated incident and was "not a product of the ethos of this department."

Mr. Burns said Wednesday that UT's internal assessment was an assessment of the athletic department's coaches and administrators to make sure they weren't somehow fostering a culture that allowed the bribery scheme to fester.

Mr. Burns said UT's athletic staff continues to warn Rocket players about dangerous outside influences and noted that soon Toledo will have its own casino -- an obvious point of reference for an athletic department stung by gambling. He also did not rule out the possibility of the NCAA penalizing UT for the point-shaving scheme, but said the university continues to work closely with the organization and does not expect a ruling from college athletics' governing body until the case is closed.

Contact Joe Vardon at:jvardon@theblade.com or 419-724-6559.



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