Clarett pleads to lesser charge to avoid jail time

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 15, 2004

COLUMBUS - Suspended Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett, accused of lying on a police report, avoided a criminal record by pleading guilty Wednesday to a lesser charge that carries no jail time.

The judge lectured Clarett about his responsibility to the community.

''I will definitely consider the judge's advice to me whenever I make decisions that not only affect me, but also the kids who look up to me, family, friends and

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teammates,'' Clarett said in a statement.

Clarett, 20, pleaded guilty to failure to aid a law enforcement officer. Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Mark S. Froehlich ordered him to pay the maximum fine of $100.

The sophomore, who helped Ohio State win the 2002 national championship, was accused of filing a campus police report that exaggerated the value of items stolen from a dealership car he borrowed in April. Had be been convicted of the original falsification charge, possible penalties ranged from probation to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Froehlich told Clarett he hoped the experience would make him a better person.

''You are in fact a role model,'' he said. ''Many people in this community look up to you. Don't let them down, but most importantly don't let yourself down. Try to give back to a community that has given so much to you.''

Clarett's mother held her hand on his back as he stood before the judge and gave only yes and no answers.

Although Clarett is separately suing the NFL to change its eligibility rules so that he may enter the draft a year early, he said in his statement that he wants to focus on the Buckeyes.

''I look forward to shifting all of my attention back to my studies and the team at the Ohio State University,'' he said.

Athletic director Andy Geiger said the police report case ''has nothing to do with us'' and doesn't affect Clarett's standing with the school or team.

''We're glad this is behind him. We're looking forward to his progress academically,'' Geiger said.

Ohio State had suspended Clarett from the team for the season, but not from school, for accepting improper benefits from a family friend and for lying about it to investigators. The university determined Clarett did nothing wrong by using a dealership car.

The university has not yet asked the NCAA to reinstate Clarett, Geiger said. He must meet school conditions such as making academic progress and donating ''thousands of dollars'' to a charity to make up for the benefits. Clarett is eligible to practice.

''It's likely he'll be lifting weights and working out this winter,'' Geiger said.

City Prosecutor Stephen McIntosh said he was willing to accept the plea deal because the case was not worth the time and expense of bringing in a witness from out of state. Another witness, former campus police chief Ron Michalec, now works in the Cleveland suburb of Pepper Pike.

Clarett's lawyer, Percy Squire, met with McIntosh before the scheduled hearing. The deal effectively canceled a hearing scheduled Wednesday to decide whether statements Clarett made to NCAA investigators should be admissible as evidence in the case.

Attorneys still will pursue a request that the U.S. Department of Education sanction the university for giving information from those statements to campus police, who passed it on to prosecutors, said Lloyd Pierre-Louis, Squire's partner.

The attorneys had argued the information should have been kept private as a federally protected educational record. McIntosh had said the federal rules didn't apply because the information came from the NCAA, not Ohio State.

Clarett has matured greatly over the past year and come to understand the scrutiny on student-athletes, the attorney said.

''He's learning to use much better judgment,'' Pierre-Louis said. ''He's learning about who he is.''