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Little left in life of Tim Donaghy

LARGO, Fla. - Tim Donaghy still has the black BMW he bought when there was so much cash he had to hide some in a bedroom safe. But the disgraced NBA referee hasn't been able to hang onto much else.

Ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy, a Delaware County native, has lost pretty much everything after serving time in prison on gambling charges. (Dirk Shadd/For the Inquirer)
Ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy, a Delaware County native, has lost pretty much everything after serving time in prison on gambling charges. (Dirk Shadd/For the Inquirer)Read more

LARGO, Fla. - Tim Donaghy still has the black BMW he bought when there was so much cash he had to hide some in a bedroom safe. But the disgraced NBA referee hasn't been able to hang onto much else.

His wife, his $250,000-a-year dream job, his self-respect, the "ecstasy" he got from gambling, are all gone now. So is the cherished photo that used to hang in his parents' Havertown den - the one that pictured the father-son referees standing proudly side-by-side. His father removed it when the son's name turned up in too many sordid headlines.

"It was disappointing when I noticed he'd taken it down," Donaghy said.

Yesterday, in an office along a seedy stretch of 66th Street here, in a room with no other furniture but the chair he sat in, Donaghy talked about the mess his life had become.

"Every day I put my head on the pillow I wonder what I did," the Delaware County native said during a far-ranging interview with The Inquirer. "I wake up hoping it was all a nightmare. It's not."

The Villanova graduate recently served 15 months in federal prison for providing inside information to a pair of gamblers, old friends from Cardinal O'Hara High. He lives alone in a Sarasota apartment, gets regular private counseling for his addiction and hopes to earn a living lecturing college kids about gambling's perils.

A small man with thinning hair, nervous eyes and a slight overbite, Donaghy, 42, remains angry with himself and bitter about the NBA.

The book he wrote to purge himself, the one a New York publisher rejected after what Donaghy characterized as last-minute threats from the NBA, was released last week by a small public relations firm here.

The first of many so-called "Son of Sam" laws was enacted in New York after politicians worried that murderer David Berkowitz might profit from a book or movie after leaving prison. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law in 1991 but suggested that more carefully written laws, protecting First Amendment rights, could pass muster. Federal and state laws have since been passed.

His public relations firm said the court allowed Donaghy to sell the book to help meet the restitution required by the federal judge in his case. Donaghy needs the proceeds to cover his share of the $217,000 that must be repaid by Donaghy and his two coconspirators, Jimmy "BaBa" Battista and Tommy Martino.

Yesterday, in addition to retelling the story of how he was paid $2,000 a victory for inside information, the longtime referee touched on several other controversial topics:

NBA players love to gamble so much that some bet thousands on three-point shots during warm-ups. "They make a lot but they also spend a lot and bet a lot. The more money you have, the more money you're going to bet to get that excitement."

The NBA, knowing its referees' tendencies, can manipulate games through its assignments. The league, he said, makes it clear it expects its officials to protect its stars.

There are so many Philadelphia-area NBA referees because "the league knows they don't take any crap from anyone."

NBA commissioner David Stern issued a statement Monday after Donaghy appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes and suggested, as he did yesterday, that other referees might have similar problems.

"Those allegations have been fully investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the government completed its investigation, finding that the only criminal conduct was that of Mr. Donaghy," Stern said. "In addition, the NBA appointed Lawrence B. Pedowitz, a former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York to lead a comprehensive independent review of the NBA's officiating."

What helps Donaghy sleep at night is that investigations by both the NBA and the FBI never turned up proof that he fixed games he officiated.

Still, some of what Donaghy says seems counterintuitive.

He contends that while he and a golfing buddy, Jack Concannon, were betting heavily on all sorts of sporting events, they stayed away from the NBA for years.

"He knew it was a line he shouldn't ask me to cross," Donaghy said. "But once we became more comfortable with each other, that came to fruition."

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."

Donaghy said that while he was providing information to Battista and Martino - they won between 70 and 80 percent of those bets - he wasn't placing his own wagers on NBA games.

"I was getting $2,000 from them," he said. "Besides, how does an NBA ref bet games? You need a contact."

Donaghy said that even though he had given tips on games he was refereeing to gamblers - gamblers who had threatened his wife and children - he officiated those games fairly.

"When you're on an NBA floor, there's a lot of things you're required to take care of and concentrate on," he said. "My concentration level was so high that I was able to put it out of my mind."

And he insisted gamblers never pressured him to take the next step, to manipulate outcomes or point spreads.

"I was winning at a 70, 80 percent clip, which is unheard of," he said. "So even if I went on a bad streak and lost two, three games in a row, they had to understand everything was not guaranteed. . . . I just explained that I was here to ref. I'll give you my opinion, but I'm not out here fixing games."

The gambling didn't begin for Donaghy - who said he got into Villanova in part by having someone take his SAT exam for him - until 1998, when he lived in West Chester and became a member at Radley Run and Concord Country Club.

Soon he was golfing for big money. Then he'd try to parlay his winnings or recoup his losses in card games at those same clubs. Soon he and Concannon, a star athlete at Monsignor Bonner who now has his own insurance agency, were visiting Atlantic City casinos and, by 2003, betting on sporting events.

His winnings, Donaghy said, were often substantial.

"It was always hidden and put away," he said. "The money was building up, and my wife had no idea about it. It got to the point where I didn't know what I was going to do with all the money."

One day Concannon asked him about the NBA. Donaghy looked at a schedule and said if he were betting, he'd go with these three teams. Two of them won. Then they began putting money on the picks.

"It was euphoria," he said of the thrill he got from betting. "It was ecstasy. Here I am loving to gamble and also knowing that, for me, these games are predictable. I know now I shouldn't have. I know now it was moronic. But I did it."

Eventually, the word got back to Battista, a self-described professional gambler. Donaghy said Battista, knowing that what the referee had been doing was illegal, knew he was vulnerable. He wanted information. Donaghy said - and Battista has denied - that he threatened the ref's family to get it.

Eleven times, from December 2006 toMarch 2007, Donaghy provided the information, even on several games that he worked. When his tips proved correct, Martino would deliver $2,000.

It wasn't long, however, until the FBI - informed, Donaghy said, by an estranged ex-friend who had gambled with him - knocked on Martino's door. Donaghy's world crumbled quickly.

Curiously, the Philadelphia-area native, whose Philly accent remains as thick as a sandwich at Nick's, mentioned Allen Iverson and Larry Brown, who once comingled so interestingly on the 76ers, as two particularly annoying figures for referees.

"There's lots of trash-talking that goes on, and some of that boils over into future games," he said. "Iverson does a lot, and that affects some referees negatively and some positively. I saw one referee kiss Iverson at midcourt before one game, and there was another who wouldn't shake hands with him."

Brown, he said, barked and griped constantly.

If the NBA is going to get past the problems his scandal helped spotlight, the ex-ref said, it needs to change the way it hires, supervises, and trains officials.

"The first thing it needs to do is hire the most qualified referees, not someone who might know another official or someone related to some supervisor on the NBA's staff," he said.

"Then they have to determine whether they're a sport or entertainment. Allow the referees to call a game based on the rule book, not on the bottom line. The book says we're not to 'referee personality,' but that's not what they tell you. They're sending mixed messages."

Donaghy said he wrote the book and has granted interviews to clear up what he called "misperceptions" created by the media, some of whom, he said, are still camped outside his residence.

"People think I fixed games and put Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Shaquille O'Neal on the bench to win bets," Donaghy said. "They felt I was betting over-unders [total points] and calling a lot of fouls. I wasn't.

"If I could turn back the clock, I would. But I can't. This is a platform to tell my story and let people understand that I made terrible, terrible choices. . . . It helps me because maybe people aren't hating me as much. A lot of people hate me."