Alleged Toledo fixers played both sides

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published on May 9, 2009. On Sunday, Sept. 6, "Outside the Lines" (9 a.m. ET, ESPN) further examines allegations of point-shaving at the University of Toledo, including an exclusive interview with former Rockets running back Scooter McDougle, who is currently under indictment. See a preview here.

As spelled out in federal indictments, Ghazi "Gary" Manni and Mitchell Karam allegedly played a hand in fixing everything from University of Toledo basketball and football games to thoroughbred horse races contested on a Tampa, Fla., track. But whether they rank as sophisticated big-time gamblers or bumbling losers is a divided opinion among those familiar with the case.

Manni and Karam, both Detroit area businessmen, are thought to have placed bets on Toledo sporting events through local bookmakers, allegedly wagering more than $400,000 on 17 Toledo basketball games in one stretch between November 2005 and December 2006. Unlike other point-shaving schemes, they played both sides of the betting line.

The two men were charged Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit with conspiracy to commit sports bribery in two separate indictments. Also named in the 20-count indictment were six former Toledo athletes: three former running backs (Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr., 24, of Cleveland; Adam Cuomo, 31, of Hagersville, Ontario; and Quinton Broussard, 25, of Carrollton, Texas) and three former basketball players (Keith Triplett, 29, of Toledo, Ohio; Anton Currie, 25, of Okemos, Mich.; and Kashif Payne, 24, of Chester, Pa.).

Some of the information gathered during the investigation, which began more than four years ago, was picked up on wiretaps the FBI placed on Manni's telephone. The indictment details 133 phone calls, all related to the conspiracy to influence basketball games, between Manni and the others charged in the case.

Sources said the scheme began in the fall of 2003, when the gamblers befriended Cuomo. He, in turn, allegedly introduced other players to them. The athletes were initially a source of information, both about Toledo's chances in upcoming games and their thoughts about other Mid-American Conference teams, before their involvement advanced to point-shaving.

According to federal documents, Cuomo was overheard on at least two wiretapped calls during the 2005 football season, which was after he had finished up his football eligibility. During a Dec. 21, 2005, call, federal agents allegedly heard Cuomo tell Manni that he and a Toledo football player would attempt to recruit an offensive lineman to help shave points later that day in the GMAC Bowl.

If that scheme was put into play, it failed miserably. Toledo trounced Texas-El Paso 45-13, which is one of the reasons questions have been raised about the level of the gamblers' sophistication. Some close to the investigation have even suggested the gamblers may have won little, if any, money.

In the 17 basketball games, Toledo failed to cover the point spread on 10 occasions. But Toledo did cover in two of the largest wagers placed by the gamblers -- a $44,000 bet on a game against St. Bonaventure and a $40,000 bet against Northern Illinois.

Neil Fink, the attorney for Manni, declined comment.

"I've heard that they may not have been real sophisticated," said Ray Richards, the attorney for Triplett, who ranks third on Toledo's all-time basketball scoring list. "I have heard that from non-lawyer sources. It is like the understood word or rumor. That makes this case unique. That could be an issue."

Two Las Vegas insiders, however, told ESPN.com that the gambling activity on Toledo games went beyond the level of two Detroit guys betting with local bookies. They said word of suspicious activity involving both Toledo and MAC contests had spread to Las Vegas sports books, coupled with reports of casinos taking losses on the games. Manni and Karam, or someone connected to them, is suspected of spreading word about the scheme to other gamblers.

"These games were among a handful of games I heard about here in Vegas," said R.J. Bell, who operates Pregame.com, a Las Vegas sports betting news site. "I was getting calls that these games were funny."

Manni, who manages a family-owned Detroit grocery store, and McDougle are scheduled to be arraigned Monday. The others, including Triplett -- who is playing pro basketball in Germany -- are expected to voluntarily appear for arraignment within the next two weeks.

The June 18 sentencing of Sammy Villegas, a former Toledo basketball player previously charged with fixing games, is now likely to be delayed. Villegas is believed to be cooperating with the government. Prosecutors could be in position to seek additional indictments if any of the six players recently charged agree to cooperate with the investigation.

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.