Report: booster gave gifts to Miami players

Published 2:26 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Associated Press

Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, has told Yahoo! Sports he provided impermissible benefits to 72 of the university’s football players and other athletes between 2002 and 2010.

Shapiro said he gave money, cars, yacht trips, jewelry, televisions and other gifts to a list of players including Vince Wilfork, Jon Beason, Antrel Rolle, Devin Hester, Willis McGahee and the late Sean Taylor. Shapiro also claimed he paid for nightclub outings, sex parties, restaurant meals and in one case, an abortion for a woman impregnated by a player. One former Miami player, running back Tyrone Moss, told Yahoo! Sports he accepted $1,000 from Shapiro around the time he was entering college.

Email newsletter signup

“Hell yeah, I recruited a lot of kids for Miami,” Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports. “With access to the clubs, access to the strip joints. My house. My boat. We’re talking about high school football players. Not anybody can just get into the clubs or strip joints. Who is going to pay for it and make it happen? That was me.”

Shapiro has said multiple times in the past year, including in the Yahoo! Sports story posted Tuesday, that he is angry with several of the players he claims to have helped when they were Hurricanes. Miami officials began cooperating with NCAA investigators not long after Shapiro made claims about his involvement with players last year. University president Donna Shalala and athletic director Shawn Eichorst were questioned by the NCAA this week. The school reiterated Tuesday it takes the allegations seriously.

“I can tell you what I think is going to happen,” Shapiro told Miami television station WFOR from federal prison in Atlanta. “Death penalty.”

Yahoo! Sports says it spent 100 hours interviewing Shapiro over the span of 11 months and audited thousands of pages of financial and business records to examine his claims.

The allegations against Miami have sparked what is just the latest in a string of NCAA investigations involving some of college football’s most high-profile and successful programs. In the last 18 months, the football teams at Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU all have either been investigated or sanctioned by the NCAA.

The litany of scandals has led to calls for major reforms in the way the NCAA regulates and polices big-time college athletics. Commissioners of the major conferences, including Mike Slive from the Southeastern Conference and Jim Delany from the Big Ten, have called for major changes and increased penalties for rule-breakers. Last week, NCAA President Mark Emmert led a group of university presidents in laying out an outline for changes, including raising academic standards, streamlining the rulebook and changing the parameters of athletic scholarships.

Shapiro was sentenced in June after he admitted to securities fraud and money laundering. He was also ordered to pay more than $82 million in restitution to his victims.

Many current Miami players also were named by Shapiro as receiving benefits, Yahoo! Sports reported, including quarterback Jacory Harris, Ray Ray Armstrong, Travis Benjamin, Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Vaughn Telemaque, Dyron Dye, Aldarius Johnson and Olivier Vernon. Former Miami quarterback Robert Marve, now at Purdue, also was named by Shapiro, Yahoo! Sports said. Purdue officials declined to comment on the Marve mention.

The story cited specifics involving only Armstrong, Dye and Vernon, alleging they received extra benefits as recruits. Shapiro said he worked in concert with several former Miami assistant coaches during the recruiting process.

“It was me and some other players with my incoming (class). I’m not going to say the names but you can probably figure them out yourself,” Moss told Yahoo! Sports. “When I was getting there my freshman year, it was me and a couple more players. It was me and a few more of the guys in my incoming class that he kind of showed some love to.”

Miami coach Al Golden, who was hired in December, acknowledged Tuesday that some of his players may have made mistakes.

“We’ll stay focused. I’m certain of that,” Golden said. “We’re disappointed but we’re not discouraged. And again, there’s going to be a life lesson here. We’re talking about allegations from a man that’s behind bars, now. If these do hold some truth, then we’ll deal with them. There’s no other way to do it.”

Current Miami players were not made available to comment Tuesday, and will not be made available before Wednesday’s practice, the university said.

Yahoo! Sports also said Shapiro paid Wilfork $50,000 as a recruiting tool to sign with sports agency Axcess Sports & Entertainment, a firm Shapiro claimed he co-owned for much of the time he was involved with the Hurricanes. Yahoo! Sports reported players got cash and benefits through Shapiro’s partner, former NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue.

Reached Tuesday by The Associated Press, Huyghue denied that story.

“It’s just fantasy,” Huyghue said. “He never had any role in my company.”

Huyghue said he signed three Miami players in seven years. He said Shapiro was not a runner and he did not represent any players, but did invest $1.5 million in his agency in 2001 and that the two spoke only occasionally.

“He didn’t have the acumen to represent players,” Huyghue said.

Meanwhile, at least one player named by Shapiro said he did try to steer them toward agents.

“I know of (Shapiro),” said Hester, now with the Chicago Bears. “At the time I was going into the draft, he was like a runner for an agent. I had declared into the draft. He was one of the runners for one agent.”

Hester would not say which agent.

Golden said he emailed his team “every day this summer” about avoiding problems that recently hit other schools, and he specifically mentioned North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Ohio State. He said his players have a “Cane Code” reminding them about such issues.

“We’ve got to make sure the third parties stay away from our student-athletes,” Golden said.

Also reported by Yahoo! Sports:

—Shapiro said he paid basketball recruit DeQuan Jones $10,000 to secure his commitment. Jones, a part-time starter last year, is now a senior with the Hurricanes.

—At least six coaches and as many as 10 athletic department employees overall were allegedly aware of Shapiro’s illicit activity, including former basketball coach Frank Haith, now at Missouri. All the coaches named by Shapiro have since left Miami. Haith lashed out at the story in a statement released through Missouri late Tuesday.

“I am more than happy to cooperate with the national office on this issue and look forward to a quick resolution,” Haith said. “The NCAA has instructed me not to comment further at this time in order to protect the integrity of their review, so I appreciate your understanding in this matter. The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character.”

—Shapiro said he paid for 39 different players to receive sex from prostitutes. He also claimed to have offered a $5,000 bounty to any player who could knock Florida State quarterback Chris Rix out of a game, provided players access to his multimillion-dollar home and yacht, and even alleges he bought rims for Hester’s sport-utility vehicle.

“I did it because I could,” Shapiro said of his spending. “And because nobody stepped in to stop me.”

Shapiro’s relationship with the program dates back about a decade. Some of the alleged incidents occurred in the past four years, which would be within the NCAA’s statute of limitations regarding violations.

Miami officials said that when Shapiro first made his allegations nearly a year ago, he and his attorneys refused to provide any facts to the school.

“The university notified the NCAA enforcement officials of these allegations,” the school said in a statement Tuesday morning. “We are fully cooperating with the NCAA and are conducting a joint investigation. The University of Miami takes these matters very seriously.”

After Yahoo! Sports posted its story Tuesday afternoon, the university released another statement, saying it “takes any allegations seriously, and will continue to cooperate fully in a joint investigation with the NCAA.”

When Shapiro was sentenced, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he “used investor funds to make payments to dozens of student athletes who were attending a local university in the Miami area to which Shapiro made significant donations … cash in amounts up to $10,000 and gifts such as jewelry and entertainment at nightclubs and restaurants in Miami Beach. As a result of a 10-year gift to the university, its Student-Athlete Lounge was named for Shapiro.”

The University of Miami was not specifically mentioned in that release, but the school temporarily named its lounge for Shapiro. His name was removed in 2008 after the school said he did not follow his pledged donation-payment plan.