Toledo point-shaving suspicions surfaced in 2005

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Reports of an alleged point-shaving scheme understandably shocked the University of Toledo campus when it first became public. The Rockets' mid-major football and basketball programs fly just under the bright lights of national scrutiny, and their games presumably would be a small play with gamblers. So when FBI agents walked into Lloyd Jacobs' third-floor office to deliver the news during a March 30 visit, the Toledo president wasn't prepared for the jolt.

"I had no hint of anything at all," he said.

Only, there had been talk elsewhere, both at Toledo and at the NCAA as well as in Las Vegas gambling circles and the FBI, and it started considerably earlier than the end of March. An ESPN.com investigation of the Toledo case raises questions concerning who knew about the allegations, when they became aware of them and why they weren't addressed until this spring.

For the time being, at least, there are no charges pending, though a federal investigation remains ongoing. At the request of the U.S. Attorney's office, a federal judge in Detroit has dismissed a charge against Toledo football player Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr., of conspiring to bribe to affect the outcome of a sporting event. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney said the dismissal is a procedural matter.

ESPN.com has learned that the government has asked McDougle, a running back who has struggled to return from a serious knee injury, to help in its investigation. McDougle's father, Harvey Sr., said his son met last Thursday with officials from the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit and is expected to meet with them again. And a source familiar with the case told ESPN.com that the initial filing was an effort to "flush people out" to seek cooperation against the gamblers allegedly trying to affect the scores of games.

In the federal criminal complaint that initially charged "Scooter" McDougle, investigators alleged the scheme involving football and basketball games dated back to 2003. ESPN.com's investigation shows that Las Vegas gaming officials had suspicions about action on Toledo football games during each of the past two seasons, and that the NCAA visited Toledo last fall in regards to a "large bet" that was placed on the Toledo-Kent State football game, an Oct. 14 contest won by Kent State.

Three days before that game last fall, school officials said the NCAA's point person on gambling activities, Rachel Newman-Baker, discussed the situation during a nearly three-hour session with Toledo football coach Tom Amstutz, athletics director Mike O'Brien and athletics faculty representative James Kline. During a recent interview with ESPN.com, Jacobs, the university president, said he believed that meeting and subsequent conversations had resolved whatever issues might have existed in the athletic department.

"They came, took a look at our program, gave us a clean bill of health and went back," said Jacobs, referring to the NCAA. "I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it."

Jacobs described that "look at our program" as a collaborative effort.

According to university spokesperson Lawrence Burns, the NCAA sent an e-mailed response, clearing the university late last year. Burns said the e-mail was sent to O'Brien, the Toledo athletic director, and could not be made available because it had been deleted. "He doesn't have it anymore,'' Burns said. The spokesman said he is uncertain if anyone other than O'Brien saw the response.

On Thursday, university officials were still trying to retrieve a copy of the e-mail from a computer. The university did not make O'Brien available for an interview.

Asked what was meant by the issuance of a "clean bill of health," Jacobs said, "I'm not a coach. I'm not an athletic director. So I don't know what the answer meant. But I can tell you that I have two impressions from that. It was unrelated to the current issue and, secondly, it didn't raise an issue on my personal radar saying that there was anything wrong.

"Clearly, if I had been smarter or had clairvoyance, I might have taken it as a hint. I might have gone further and learned things on my own. But as I say, as president of an institution, if I'm told things are up to snuff in the operating room, I think that's good enough for me. So this did not raise any issues on my radar screen."

Once the university's board of trustees learned of the result, they, too, let it drop and assumed the issue had been satisfactorily resolved.

"The athletic program was doing well,'' board chairman Richard B. Stansley Jr. recalled. "There was no talk of point shaving or anything like that. We never even talked about the game [in question]. We never asked about the details.''

Apparently, word that athletic department officials had met with the NCAA about the suspicious bet on the Kent State game didn't reach the offices of the Mid-American Conference, of which Toledo is a member. MAC commissioner Rick Chryst told ESPN.com that he didn't know anything about gambling issues at Toledo until O'Brien, the athletic director, phoned him on March 30 of this year, the day the FBI visited campus.

"Certainly, if there is information out there you'd want to know … Yeah, certainly you'd like to know more rather than less,'' Chryst said.

Through a spokesperson, the NCAA repeatedly has declined ESPN.com requests for clarification on issues involving the Toledo situation, saying it is against policy to comment on "current, pending or potential investigations."

They came, took a look at our program, gave us a clean bill of health and went back. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it.

Toledo president Lloyd Jacobs, referring to the NCAA

What wasn't an issue on Jacobs' radar screen earlier is now a serious one for the man who became the Toledo president last July following a merger with the Medical University of Ohio. Immediately after he was apprised by the FBI on March 30, Jacobs got approval from the Ohio Attorney General's office to retain Mike Glazier, a well-known attorney with an Overland Park, Kan., law firm that specializes in assisting universities in NCAA-related matters.

Jacobs acknowledged the university potentially could be accused of lacking institutional control of its football and basketball programs, perhaps the most serious of NCAA violations, if the claim is made that the school knew of the situation or should have known and failed to take appropriate action. Jacobs said he was contacted after the story broke by NCAA president Myles Brand. Jacobs said Brand told him to "do the right thing and you're on the right track."

Said Jacobs: "He didn't have any great advice."

"To my mind, it's an issue revolving around our institutional ethics; and even though it's only an allegation at this point, I want to be darn sure we're doing everything right," Jacobs said. "The other big issue, as I understand it, is the degree to which the eligibility of some of our [football] players might be affected by fall. Suffice it to say, we're going to handle that the same way and look at it very carefully. We'll consult with the appropriate people -- not play them if they're not eligible, or if there is any hint of ineligibility. That's probably the next big issue for us internally."

"Scooter" McDougle was suspended from spring football practice and is awaiting a decision by the school regarding his reinstatement.

The president said he has no idea whether other UT players eventually might be linked to roles in the alleged point-shaving.

According to the original criminal complaint, McDougle was recruited into the scheme by a Detroit area gambler known as "Gary" -- since identified as Ghazi Manni, a 50-year-old Chaldean Iraqi whose family owns an independent grocery store in inner-city Detroit, some 60 miles from Toledo. The Detroit area is home to almost 120,000 Chaldeans, a Christian sect that is a tiny minority in Iraq.

In a series of interviews with ESPN.com, Manni confirmed he is a focus of the FBI's investigation, but denied that he was involved in any wrongdoing.

"Believe me, they blew it out of proportion; that is all," Manni said. "There is nothing going on. I'll be honest with you: The kid [McDougle] didn't even play for two years, three years. He has been injured … We haven't done nothing wrong."

The criminal complaint states that the FBI intercepted calls to and from Manni's phone from November 2005 to December 2006. In one of the early calls, the FBI said, Manni was overheard telling a then-Toledo basketball player, unidentified in the complaint, that McDougle "had taken care of" certain players on the football team who would be helping Manni influence that day's game. In December 2005, the FBI intercepted a call, the complaint said, during which McDougle told Manni he would contact other football players to see whether he and Manni might make some money on the GMAC Bowl game against Texas-El Paso.

McDougle's father said government officials allowed his son to listen to at least some of the taped phone calls during his meeting with the U.S. Attorney's representatives last week.

"He's cooperating,'' Harvey McDougle Sr. said of his son. "He helped them as much as he could, but he doesn't know anything. He never bet. He never gambled with the guy or anything. He can only give them so much and that is not much, really.''

"Scooter" McDougle's parents claim Manni was known to players around the Toledo program before their son met him. "Scooter" McDougle told ESPN.com that he was introduced to Manni by a former Toledo player, whom he refused to identify. And while federal investigators believe the "conspiracy" dates to at least the fall of 2003, it wasn't until the 2005 football season that gaming officials in Las Vegas and offshore bookmakers became alarmed by unusual betting activity on Toledo football games.

Officials with MGM Mirage, which owns 10 racing and sports books in casinos along the Vegas Strip, first contacted the Nevada Gaming Control Board in October 2005 to report unusual activity on Toledo football games. During the last seven weeks of the 2005 season, the MGM Mirage sports books took Toledo games off the board. At the start of the 2006 football season, the sports books capped bets on Toledo games at $1,000, and took action only on game day.

Later in 2005, Kenny White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which makes the betting line used by the Vegas sports books and some offshore gaming sites, also alerted the state gaming board. White told ESPN.com earlier this spring that he contacted the NCAA last summer to alert officials to the chatter about Toledo games.

Larry Moore Jr., the investigator who led the initial Nevada Gaming Control Board probe, said the state board notified the NCAA soon after. Moore, now retired, said he couldn't recall how succinctly the situation was described to the NCAA, or if point-shaving was mentioned to the college governing body at the time.

MGM Mirage officials, however, said they didn't notify the NCAA in 2005 because of what they described as a contentious relationship with Bill Saum, who monitored gambling activity for the NCAA until he was reassigned early that year.

"In '05, unfortunately the relationship wasn't very good," said Alan Feldman, MGM Mirage senior vice president of public affairs. "The director of enforcement [for gambling] … made some rather remarkable claims in the press about what goes on in Las Vegas and about sports betting in general. In '05, there was not a good relationship with the NCAA. It was really unfortunate."

The NCAA, asked by ESPN.com to comment on Feldman's description of the relationship, issued this formal response: "The NCAA disputes this characterization. The NCAA has an established, ongoing relationship with gaming officials in Las Vegas as a part of its overall efforts to limit sports wagering activities. This relationship was re-emphasized in 2004 when the NCAA Sports Wagering Task Force recommended expanded communication with gaming officials. Both sides have a common goal to protect the integrity of the game, and we feel the relationship is mutually beneficial. As such, we appreciate the cooperation we have received from officials in Las Vegas."

In any event, the lines of communication between the NCAA and Las Vegas gaming officials were open last fall, and concerns about Toledo games were voiced to the NCAA.

One of those concerns dealt with a large bet placed on a Toledo game during the 2005 season.

"I have a vague idea that it was in the $20,000 range, but I don't have an exact number,'' Feldman said.

Talk like that only fuels point-shaving suspicion around the Toledo football and basketball programs, and it's certainly no solace for the first-year Toledo president. Jacobs thought he was finished with the gambling rumors late last year. Then, a couple of days before Friday, March 30, someone from the Detroit office of the FBI called to set up the visit that finally would make the charges about his university's athletic department public.

"They basically said that they had allegations that our players were involved in a point-shaving scandal and wanted to let us know," Jacobs said of the meeting. "I said, 'We will cooperate in every way.' That pretty much is a summary of the conversation. I actually left the meeting early and left them in a discussion with our general counsel."

Asked if the FBI had shared any enlightening information on the case, Jacobs said: "Frankly, I didn't think the FBI was very open. They could have told me a little bit more, but that's their modus operandi … I feel like I was sort of sneaked up on."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com. George J. Tanber is an ESPN.com contributor. He can be reached at george.tanber@iscg.net.