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Ex-NBA ref 'picked winners,' says ex-gambler

The finest information Jimmy Battista received in his years as a full-time professional gambler, he says now, came from former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.

The finest information Jimmy Battista received in his years as a full-time professional gambler, he says now, came from former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.

"I called him the King - Elvis," Battista told HBO Real Sports in an interview aired last night. "Nobody picked winners like he did. Nobody."

Battista, who attended Cardinal O'Hara High in Delaware County with Donaghy, served 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to make illegal bets after going into business with Donaghy.

Donaghy was released from prison earlier this month after serving his own 15-month sentence, after pleading guilty to conspiring with gamblers by giving them inside information.

Battista denied blackmailing Donaghy as Donaghy had claimed.

"I never threatened him - I didn't have to. He was a degenerate gambler," said Battista, pointing out that he wasn't charged with extortion.

Saying he typically worked "70 hours a week" on his job as a professional gambler - "all sports," he said - Battista said he "sucked [Donaghy] in" to working with him, first giving Donaghy advice on how to bet NFL games.

Battista, from Phoenixville, claims Donaghy eventually helped him bet on 47 NBA games. In his own federal plea agreement, Donaghy admitted to betting on 16 games.

According to Battista, Donaghy's success ratio was 37-10. Battista called that an "unheard of" winning percentage.

Battista was asked if he thought Donaghy fixed games.

"Uh . . . no comment," Battista said after a long pause. Battista said he "operated on the assumption that we were going to win."

In the interview with Bryant Gumbel, Battista said it become known "among the peers I hung with" that Donaghy was placing bets on NBA games with the aid of another Delaware County resident, Jack Concannon.

Battista was asked if that struck him as odd.

"Coming from a gambler, nothing strikes me as odd," Battista said. "I just wanted him to start working with me."

Battista said, "I knew Timmy was betting college and pro football. He wasn't doing well."

Donaghy and his attorney, John Lauro, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

"Tim Donaghy's cooperation was completely vetted by the FBI and determined to be accurate," Lauro told the New York Times. "As far as I know, Mr. Battista has never cooperated, nor have any of his statements been subject to a thorough investigation by the FBI. We stand completely by Tim's statements to the court and his full cooperation with the United States."

Concannon could not be reached for comment last night.

In 2008, Concannon's attorney, Joseph Fiorvanti, told The Inquirer: "My client was interviewed by the FBI and responded truthfully to their questions. He does not expect to be indicted. He has no organized-crime connections. He's just a guy who bet games with Donaghy."

Battista said he first "gave [Donaghy] anywhere from six to eight games every Sunday" on football bets, then claimed he made Donaghy an offer he didn't refuse.

"I sucked him in," Battista said. "I'll say that because that's what it was."

The arrangement, Battista said, was for Donaghy to get paid for games when he won. "You lose. Don't worry, I got it."

"I would give him $2,500 for the first two games that worked out," Battista said. "Then I upped it to $5,000 a game."

Battista said the NBA never contacted him in its investigation of the Donaghy affair. An NBA spokesman told the New York Times that league investigators had contacted Battista through his attorney and he had declined to cooperate.

Battista said as part of his own plea arrangement with federal authorities, "I could have told them everything. I chose not to," he said, acknowledging he also had a drug problem at the time.

Battista now "works odd jobs during the day" and said he has given up drugs and gambling.

He worked with Donaghy, he said, through another Cardinal O'Hara graduate, Thomas Martino of Boothwyn, Delaware County, who also served prison time for the scheme.

Battista said the first game he worked with Donaghy was a Dec. 13, 2006, game - Boston at the 76ers. According to Battista, the Sixers were 11/2-point favorites.

"He said, 'Boston is going to crush them.' That's all I needed to know," Battista said. The Celtics won by 20.