Booster claims he#039;s scapegoat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

WARREN, Ohio - A businessman says he did nothing wrong when he gave a cell phone and other help to suspended Ohio State star tailback Maurice Clarett.

Newspaper reports have linked assistance Bobby Dellimuti gave Clarett to an NCAA investigation that led to the sophomore being suspended from the national championship Buckeyes for at least this season. Ohio State said Clarett broke NCAA bylaws by receiving extra benefits and lying to investigators.

Dellimuti, owner of DiLucia's Restaurant in Clarett's high school town, has helped Clarett and other high school football players for years in the blue collar town, he told the Warren Tribune Chronicle for a story Tuesday.

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The investigation ''is making me paranoid about everything. They're trying to make me a scapegoat. I'm a Warren guy, and I try to be supportive,'' said Dellimuti, who says Clarett is like a son.

Dellimuti, 38, declined to give details about the type of assistance he gave Clarett. Messages left Tuesday seeking more comment from Dellimuti were not immediately returned.

NCAA rules prohibit athletes from receiving assistance from anyone other than parents or legal guardians unless the relationship was established before they became college prospects.

Dellimuti, 38, would not discuss whether he continued providing financial support to Clarett after he signed to play at Ohio State during his senior year at Warren Harding High School, about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland. Dellimuti said he began a relationship with Clarett when he transferred from Austintown Fitch High School to Warren Harding after his ninth-grade season.

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment on Clarett's relationship with Dellimuti.

On Saturday, Geiger did not mention Dellimuti by name when answering questions from a reporter about Clarett's situation. Geiger referred to a surrogate father figure.

Geiger said determining if the relationship began before Clarett was considered a college prospect is a fine line.

''Exactly when that relationship started, all of those kinds of things, all of that can be part of mitigation as we go forward. What did he know, what should he have known, how clear is that interpretation, how clear is the rule?'' Geiger said.

The NCAA shared its interpretation of the assistance rules with OSU in August, Geiger said, ''and that interpretation made it clear that we had the problem that we're in.''

Meanwhile, Warren Harding high school football coach Thom McDaniels said he fears the situation will scare off others trying to help teams and players.

''I've coached in Orrville, Mansfield and Canton, and there were people like Bobby in every one of those communities. They're just good people who want to help the kids. I guess it's no wonder there is a shortage of good Samaritans in the world today,'' McDaniels said.