A former NBA official is under investigation in connection with his role in allegedly shaving points in league games he officiated in the last few years, according to two league sources.
Tim Donaghy, 40, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, is being investigated by officials in the FBI's New York office to see whether he made officiating calls to benefit organized crime members that affected the final scores and betting lines of games the last two seasons in order to ease gambling debts.
A number believed to be Donaghy's home phone in Bradenton, Fla., went unanswered this afternoon. Donaghy's lawyer, John Lauro, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, declined comment today.
NBA commissioner David Stern issued a statement late this afternoon: "As we previously stated, we have been cooperating with the FBI in their investigation of allegations that a single NBA referee bet on NBA games that he officiated. As part of that cooperation, we were asked by the Government not to comment about the investigation, but in light of the widespread press coverage and the naming of the referee, Tim Donaghy, we consider it appropriate to make a fuller statement.
"We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again. We will have more to say at a press conference that will be scheduled for next week."
The league told its officials by e-mail today not to discuss the case.
"It's beyond devastating," said a veteran official, who asked not to be identified today. "Every guy is sick to their stomach. We know it's going to come back on us."
A source indicated today that Donaghy had resigned from the NBA, and was likely to turn himself in to authorities within the next few days.
Another source said that the league had previous suspicions about Donaghy and gambling, to the point where Donaghy was ordered to the league's office in New York to discuss his gambling. However, the league did not suspect Donaghy of point shaving or betting on its games, and allowed him to continue officiating, the source said.
"They are serious allegations," the head of the referees' union, Lamell McMorris, said in a brief telephone interview this afternoon. "It's an ongoing federal investigation. And we don't really have much more to say about it, and neither do the referees."
Donaghy had been an NBA official for 13 years. Like fellow NBA referees Mike Callahan, Joey Crawford and Eddie Malloy, Donaghy is a graduate of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield (Delaware County). He played varsity basketball and baseball at O'Hara and graduated from Villanova in 1989.
Bud Gardler was Donaghy's basketball coach at O'Hara. "I don't have anything but nice things to say about him," Gardler said. "Part of this whole deal - it's so nuts anymore - take out the slots, the betting lines, everyone's involved in this stuff." Gardler also coached Callahan and Malloy. "They have such integrity, they really work hard at it, and this is coming from a coach," Gardler said.
Donaghy sold his West Chester home in 2005 and moved to Florida. The sale occurred after Donaghy was sued, accused of harassing and invading the privacy of a neighboring couple who said that Donaghy had stalked them and vandalized their property. The lawsuit was resolved, said Peter Mansueto, who brought the lawsuit against Donaghy.
"We were once very good friends, used to play golf together all the time, but things changed," Mansueto told a reporter at his home today.
Donaghy generally was considered a solid official, having worked several playoff games during the last few seasons. However, Donaghy never had officiated an NBA Finals game, an honor generally reserved for the league's best officials.
He was involved in a controversial incident in 2003 when he called a technical foul on then-Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace for allegedly throwing a ball at another official during a game in Portland. After the game, Wallace encountered Donaghy on the loading dock of the Rose Garden as Donaghy was leaving the arena and screamed obscenities at him. Donaghy claimed Wallace threatened him, and after an investigation, the league suspended Wallace for seven games.
The disclosure that one of its employees is under suspicion of having shaved points is a nightmare scenario for the NBA, a league that has had to fight off conspiracy charges - that the league wants certain high-profile teams and players to win and prosper - for years.
Referees have been under greater scrutiny in recent years, with the league revamping its evaluation system for officials. Every call an official makes is now graded by an on-site observer at each game. The observer is backed up by regional group supervisors. Officials are required to immediately report any controversial calls or ejections to the league office for review.
This past season, the league instituted a zero-tolerance policy for extended arguing with officials about calls, which gave them greater latitude to call offenders for technical fouls or eject them from games.
In the late 1990s, several of the game's top officials were implicated in a scandal involving the resale of first-class plane tickets that officials received. The officials flew coach in many cases while pocketing the difference from the first-class fare but did not report the additional income to the Internal Revenue Service.
Many officials resigned and paid back taxes to the IRS, and most of them were reinstated to their old jobs within a few years.
Officials also came under fire earlier this year when a study co-authored by a professor at Penn's Wharton School of Business purported to show a pattern of consistent, if unconscious, racial bias against African American players by referees when three-man officiating crews included few or no African American officials.
The NBA vehemently disputed the findings, but at least one independent analysis of the available data commissioned by ESPN.com backed the findings.
The only saving grace for the league is that much of the sporting public's attention this week has been divided between the legal problems of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who was indicted in federal court on multiple animal cruelty charges; controversial Giants outfielder Barry Bonds' imminent breaking of the record of baseball's all-time home run king, Hank Aaron; and the British Open.
There was no detectable change in betting patterns in Las Vegas casinos on NBA games during the last couple of years, according to Jay Kornegay, who runs the sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton and spoke by telephone today.
"We usually hear something if there's some unusual movement or unusual betting patterns. . . . There's usually some kind of discussions about them. We don't remember anything like that," Kornegay said.
Kornegay said he wasn't concerned about taking action on NBA games in the future. Sports book betting makes up only about 2 percent of all betting action, he said.
"We are a very well-regulated industry out here, and I have all the faith in the world in our system," he said. "I'm more disappointed than concerned. It doesn't just shake the NBA; it shakes the whole sports world."