COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife had a
lucrative side business selling hundreds of pounds of marijuana in
Columbus, a second job that federal prosecutors say allowed him to
pay $21,500 for a luxury SUV.
But Rife's guilty plea to drug trafficking and money laundering
charges Tuesday might have gone unnoticed had federal investigators
not stumbled on another of Rife's sidelines: buying Ohio State
memorabilia from football players or giving them discounts on
tattoos for the items.
That discovery triggered an NCAA investigation into the school and
led to coach Jim Tressel's forced resignation, the departure of
star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the suspension of four players
for the first five games of the upcoming season and one game for a
The university is still wrestling with the scandal's fallout,
which could include a variety of NCAA penalties.
"Guilty, your honor," Rife told U.S. District Court Judge
Gregory Frost when asked how he wanted to plead to one count of
money laundering and one count of conspiracy to distribute and
possess with intent to distribute more than 200 pounds of
Afterward, attorney Stephen Palmer tried to distance his client
from the scandal.
"He was an unfortunate cog in the wheel," Palmer said after
the hearing. "He had no intention of harming anyone in the
Rife, 31, could face a prison sentence of 20 years for money
laundering and up to 40 years for drug trafficking but would likely
receive much less under federal sentencing rules. Frost did not set
a sentencing date and prosecutors say Rife's cooperation in an
ongoing drug trafficking investigation could determine the length
Rife, owner of Fine Line Ink Tattoos and Body Piercings on the
west side of Columbus, was allowed to remain free pending his
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Kelley said the government is not
assisting with either the NCAA or Ohio State investigations. He
also said there was no evidence Ohio State players were involved in
the marijuana operation.
In December, Pryor and four other Ohio State players were found
to have received cash and discounted tattoos from Rife in exchange
for signed Buckeye memorabilia and championship rings. All were
permitted by the NCAA to play in the Buckeyes' 31-26 victory over
Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, with their five-game suspensions to
begin with the first game of the 2011 season. Another player,
Jordan Whiting, was suspended for one game.
After the team returned from New Orleans, investigators found
that Tressel had learned in April 2010 about the players'
involvement with Rife.
Rife had met with a local attorney and former Ohio State walk-on
player, Christopher Cicero, that month to discuss his case but
never hired Cicero. Cicero sent Tressel emails detailing the
improper benefits, and the two ended up trading a dozen emails on
Tressel had signed an NCAA compliance form in September saying
he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by athletes. His contract, in
addition to NCAA rules, specified that he had to tell his superiors
or compliance department about any potential NCAA rules violations.
Tressel, who won a national championship and seven Big Ten
titles at Ohio State, resigned May 30. Pryor has also announced
he's leaving Ohio State.
Rife must also forfeit $50,000 in drug proceeds, but if he does
that successfully he'll keep the memorabilia found in his suburban
Columbus home. Those include Big Ten championship rings, gold pants
pendants, autographed items and parts of football uniforms.
"Investigators could not determine whether the seized Ohio
State sports memorabilia had been specifically purchased by Rife
with narcotics proceeds," Robert Bogner, a special agent in the
Internal Revenue Service's criminal investigations unit, testified
in court Tuesday.
Bogner said investigators learned of Rife's drug dealing while
investigating a major marijuana and cocaine operation in central