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College hoops scandal: The beginning

1951 scandals threaten college hoops

College hoops scandals: The recent history

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Explosion II: The Molinas period
By Joe Goldstein
Special to

A prelude to the scandals of 1961 was the suspension of Jack Molinas of the Fort Wayne Pistons on Jan. 10, 1954.

His NBA suspension was for gambling on games his team won, but it was known reliably that the All-American from Columbia University had also bet against his own team. Molinas was no second-rate player. As a rookie, he was regarded as superior to teammates George Yardley, Mel Hutchins and Larry Foust, all great figures in the NBA.

In the 1961 scandals, which produced 37 arrests of players from 22 colleges including Columbia, St. John's, New York University, North Carolina State and Connecticut, Molinas was the lead conspirator.

There was a more direct connection to top mob guys than the 1951 scandals. Molinas was connected with Mafia chief Tommie (Ryan) Eboli and with Capo Vincent "The Chin" Gigante. Eboli (instumental in the mob's role in boxing) was murdered on a Brooklyn street in late July 1972, five steel-tipped bullets going into his head. It was recorded by crime reporters as a power struggle in the Vito Genovese family.

Bronxite Joe Hacken, who had escaped involvement in the Manhattan College scandals of 1950-51, was Molinas' partner in the college gambling operation. They reached players at 27 schools from the 1957-61. Altogether, 476 players and 43 games were controlled. Other accomplices included Aaron Wagman and David Budin, a junior high school teacher in Brooklyn.

Hacken was a genuine basketball nut and had nine bookmaking convictions. He was "doing business" with Molinas when Molinas was the best player in the Ivy League at Columbia. Hacken bragged he had fixed his first game in 1938 when he was 18. Hacken, who was involved (but was fortunate in avoiding complicity) with the Manhattan College revelations of 1951 was the stepbrother of Manhattan fixer Cornelius Kelleher.

Hacken was also involved in the boxing rackets with the notorious Frankie "Mr. Gray" Carbo. Detective Bernhard of the NYPD, who was the key figure in the cracking of the hoop scandals of 1961, had infiltrated the Carbo combine and knew of Hacken's activities in boxing.

The great tragedy of the Molinas era was Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins, who is regarded as the '60s equivalent of Julius "Dr. J." Erving.

In 1960, Hawkins, then a star at Brooklyn's Boys High, met Jack Molinas. In the summer before he entered the University of Iowa, Hawkins was often in Molinas' Buick. Roger Brown, another local hoops star, was doing the driving, with a girl in front and another in back with Hawkins.

Hawkins and Brown had received "favors" from Molinas during their freshman seasons at Iowa and Dayton. During the Christmas holidays of 1961, Connie Hawkins was broke. He "borrowed" $250 from Jack Molinas with the promise to repay, but neither enlisted others to "throw" games or promised to do so for the next season. The principals in the scandal, including Molinas and Joe Hacken, would repeatedly insist that Hawkins had no participation or knowledge of fixing games.

However, his association with Molinas would cause the end of Hawkins' collegiate career. He never played one varsity game for the Hawkeyes. Hawkins was tainted and NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy banned Hawkins, as well as Roger Brown from Brooklyn, a freshman at Dayton. He lifted the ban in 1969 when he settled a lawsuit Hawkins had filed against the NBA.

"The Hawk" went on to play in four NBA All-Star games, but he was not as good as he had been in the ABA and playgrounds. Brown had a lengthy ABA career (1967-75) almost all with Indianapolis and enjoyed a career 17.4 average per game. The scandal of '61 actually broke out of an attempted and successful college football and pro football fixes. Wagman, a boyhood friend of Molinas, tried to bribe a University of Florida fullback, Jon McBeth, who informed his coach. Just a few days later Dave Budin, a former Brooklyn College player working for Molinas, tried to bribe a University of Oregon halffback to throw a game against the University of Michigan.

A detective in District Attorney Hogan's office tipped off Hacken, who tried to instruct Wagman and Joe Green, a neighborhood pal or Molinas in the Bronx, to call the players and tell them all to be calm.

All the players in the basketball fixes were contacted. Connie Hawkins was not called.

In March of 1961, Hacken and Wagman were arrested. Most of the athletes had been alerted, but almost all confessed when questioned.

The fixers confessed too, but Hacken didn't talk. When Molinas was arrested in January of 1962, he considered himself safe. Molinas had been careful not to mention fixes. It was Hacken, Green and Wagman who made the fixes, with one exception: Molinas directly bribed Bowling Green player Billy Reed, from New York's Jamaica High.

Connie Hawkins had been wrongfully brought into the scandal by Budin, who worked with Molinas. Hacken denied telling Budin that Hawkins had influenced the outcome of games. He went to great lengths to clear Hawkins' name. From jail in 1965, Hacken sent a note to a New York Post writer that Hawkins was innocent. In 1969, from another New York prison, he signed an affadavit for Hawkins' lawyers stating that he knew of no conspiracies connecting Hawkins to fix games.

Hawkins suffered disproportionately for taking Molinas' $250 and not doing anything illegal. It took his lawyers, notably David Litman, six years to get him to the ABA.

Other players blemished were St. John's star Tony Jackson who failed to report a bribe offer, which he considered a joke and North Carolina's star Doug Moe, who recieved $75 from Wagman to fly to a meeting in New Jersey, arranged by Moe's friend Lou Brown. Moe had turned down the offer to throw games.

It was several years before Jackson and Moe (who never were involved in fix conspiracies) could reach the ABA.

Involved in fixed games, according to the testimony against the gamblers were: Ed Bowler of LaSalle; Art Hicks and Hank Gunter of Seton Hall; Anton Muehlbauer, Stan Niewierowski and Terry Litchfield of North Carolina Stare; Ray Paprocky of NYU; Fred Portnoy of Columbia University; Mike Parenti and William Chrystal of St John's and Reed of Bowling Green.

Players from Utah, Bowling Green, Alabama and the College of the Pacific testified against Molinas.

St. Joseph's of Philadelphia finished third in the 1961 NCAA tournament, but was stripped of that finish as the starters controlled point spreads for gamblers.

Molinas was found guilty of bribing players to fix games from 1957 to 1961. He was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. Molinas served five years, mainly at Attica where he was the inspiration for the Burt Reynolds film, "The Longest Yard." He was released after five years and moved to Hollywood to traffic in pornography and furs from Taiwan.

Jack Molinas was killed, a bullet to his head, at age 43, on August 3, 1975. He was standing in the backyard of his Hollywood Hills home with his lifetime sweetheart, Shirley Marcus of New York who had arrived only a few hours earlier from New York. Mrs. Marcus was wounded in the nick in the shooting. It was not clear, according to the police, if she was a target or an accidental victim. Police did not rule out a gangland hit on Molinas.

Two days later the Los Angeles Times reported a possible link between the shooting of Jack Molinas and the 1974 murder or his former business partner, Bernard Gusoff.

Gusoff was beaten to death in his Los Angeles apartment on Nov. 15, 1974. Police never solved the murder. Molinas had collected $500,000 on an insurance policy on Gusoff's life. Molinas and Gusoff held life insurance policies on each other as partners in a fur importing business.

This ended the compelling saga of Jack Molinas--outstanding college and pro player, the biggest of the fixers, brilliant attorney, who always had to take the dangerously crooked road.

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