ATHENS, Ga. -- A jury on Friday found former Georgia coach Jim Donnan not guilty on all 41 charges related to an investment fraud scheme.
Donnan faced charges including conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. His lawyers maintained he was duped and thought he was sharing an opportunity with friends.
Prosecutors said the 69-year-old Donnan and Gregory Crabtree of Proctorville, Ohio, ran a fraudulent investment scheme from September 2007 to December 2010 through GLC Limited, a West Virginia-based company dealing in wholesale and closeout merchandise. The two promised high rates of return but paid investors with other investor money, according to the prosecution.
The two were accused of enticing 94 people to invest over $80 million.
Prosecutors argued that Crabtree ran the day-to-day operations of the scheme and that Donnan, who at one time worked at ESPN as a college football analyst, used relationships of trust within his extensive network of personal and professional contacts to lure investors.
Prosecution witnesses included business leaders, former football players and high-profile college coaches who invested -- including NC State basketball coach Mark Gottfried, Texas State football coach Dennis Franchione, Cincinnati football coach and former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, and former Texas Tech men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
Most of the investors testified that their trust in Donnan and his assurances that they wouldn't lose their initial investment money played heavily in their decisions to invest. Many received high payouts initially, prompting them to turn around and invest more money. Ultimately, almost all of them lost money.
The prosecution argued that Donnan falsely told investors that they were putting their money in "presold deals" -- merchandise they would purchase for which Crabtree already had a committed buyer -- when in fact they were buying merchandise and then looking to sell it. But the company wasn't generating enough profits and money from new investors was continually needed to pay the company's expenses and other investors, prosecutors said.
Donnan's attorneys maintained that he was also a victim in Crabtree's scheme, that he thought he'd found a great investment and wanted to share his good fortune with others.
Crabtree pleaded guilty last month to a single conspiracy charge and faces up to five years in prison.