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College hoops scandal: The beginning

1951 scandals threaten college hoops

College hoops scandals: The Molinas period

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Recent scandals: BC, Tulane and Northwestern
By Joe Goldstein
Special to

1970s - Boston College

In the 1978-79 season, Boston College players agreed with a fixer, who was very important in the Mafia. The fixer was Henry Hill, no background person, but high up in the Lucchese crime family of New York.

Hill was a central figure in Nick Pileggi's book "Good Fellas" and the ensuing film.

Hill, who testified for the government in the 1981 federal trial in Brooklyn as a member of the witness protection program, said that it was necessary for his crime family to approve of his efforts to fix Boston College basketball games.

This approval came from his Capo Paul Vario of Brooklyn, who, in turn, received assent from the late Antonio "Tony Ducks" Corallo, the Lucchese family boss.

Hill, then 38, was also scheduled to be a government witness in the 1968 $5.8 million dollar robbery at the Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

Hill had become part of the witness protection program when he was arrested in 1980 in a $1.5 million drug ring that smuggled cocaine, marijuana and qualudes.

The Boston College fixes were hatched when Hill was in the Lewisburg (PA) Federal Prison, where he was serving time. He became friendly with inmate Paul Mazzei of Pittsburgh.

After his release from prison on July 15, 1978, Hill flew to Pittsburgh to meet Mazzie and his friend Tony Perla.

Perla suggested he could do business with Boston College basketball player Rick Kuhn from Pittsburgh.

Hill related to Douglas S. Looney of Sports Illustrated, that the Boston College fixes were arranged in Pittsburgh at Mazzei's house on Dec. 14, three days after the Lufthansa job.

At this point Kuhn, who had failed after two seasons as a minor league pitcher, brought in his teammate Jim Sweeney. In all, Hill told Looney, he had paid Kuhn and Sweeney to shave points in nine games between Dec. 16, 1978 and March 1, 1979. Hill was the winner in six games, but wasn't successful until B.C.'s star Ernie Cobb joined the cast for the last five games. In the 11 weeks, Hill told SI's Looney, he made between $75,000 to $100,000. He estimated his partners made a quarter of a million dollars. The players involved, Hill told Looney, probably made about $10,000 each.

Judge Henry Bramwell in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, issued these sentences: "Paul Mazzie (fixer) 10 years, Anthony Perla (fixer), 10 years."

Rick Kuhn, 10 years, Rocco Perla (fixer) four years and a $30,000 fine.

Kuhn's sentence was the heaviest ever imposed on a college player convicted of point shaving. Kuhn's sentence was later reduced to 28 months. Sweeney and Cobb were not charged.

1980s - Tulane

The most notable scandal of the 1980s was the arrest of Tulane star John "Hot Rod" Williams on March 27, 1985.

Williams, according to his indictment, accepted at least $8,550 for manipulating point spreads in Metro Conference games against Southern Mississippi, Memphis State and Virginia Tech.

Williams was indicted on two counts of sports bribery and three counts of conspiracy. A mistrial ensued in Williams' case and the charges were dropped by State Judge Alan V. Oser.

Williams went immediately to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a high salary. He averaged 12.9 points per game during his nine years with the Cavaliers.

1990s - Arizona St. and Northwestern

On Dec. 5, 1997, former Arizona State basketball players Steven Smith and Isaac Burton, Jr. pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit sports bribery in a point shaving plan. Smith and Burton admitted taking payoffs for shaving points in four Arizona State home games in the 1993-94 season.

On March 26, 1998, two former Northwestern players, Dion Lee and Dewey Williams, plus a former Wildcat player Brian Ballerini, who was accused of accepting bets on sporting events from other Northwestern players, including Lee, were arrested.

In November 1998, Dion Lee pleaded guilty to sports bribery and was sentenced to one month in prison and two years probation. He was 25.

Big time college basketball survived near destruction and became even bigger though several lesser scandals developed in the '70s, '80s and '90s. A new form of scandal has developed with 17, 18 and 19 year olds accepting money, not from gamblers, but from NBA teams when these youngsters give up college basketball to make a killing in professional basketball.

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