One paragraph in Tim Donaghy's case file continues to haunt the ex-referee from inside the Brooklyn Courthouse in New York.
In a May 8, 2008, letter to U.S. District Judge Carol Amon, prosecutors wrote:
"There is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct. He has acknowledged, however, that he compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance."
Donaghy says the feds insisted that he agree to the second sentence as part of his plea deal. He knew it would cause him trouble down the road, and it has.
"To this day, I still don't understand what 'subconsciously' meant," Donaghy told the Daily News this week.
Since his release from prison last month, he has repeatedly denied that he ever made a call on the court to help win a bet - "Absolutely not. It never happened" - which is why he cringes when he reads the prosecutors' vaguely worded phrase.
It appears to cast doubt on his story, depending on your interpretation of "subconsciously affected." Made an incorrect call but doesn't remember? Unintentionally rationalized a borderline call? Repressed certain memories?
"It was a major, major stumbling block for me," Donaghy said of that sentence, "because it was something I knew people could take and construe in the wrong manner."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Goldberg declined to comment yesterday, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Seigel, the lead prosecutor on the case when Donaghy surrendered, has previously said he would not comment.
Donaghy, who has been promoting his tell-all book this week, says he was able to make successful picks largely based on his access to the once-confidential list of referee assignments and his knowledge of how certain refs interacted with players, coaches and owners.
The NBA, in the wake of the Donaghy scandal, began publishing referee assignments online at about 9 a.m. the day of the game, eliminating the possibility that gamblers such as Donaghy could use their access to that information to beat the spread.
In Donaghy's view, that confirms what he's said all along - that knowing who is officiating a game gave him the betting edge he needed, without having to manipulate the score with his whistle. Publishing the schedule eliminated that edge.