EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published on Aug. 29, 2007. 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.
Growing up on the east side of Cleveland, Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr. dreamed of busting tackles for the hometown Browns. Even now, as his University of Toledo teammates are just days away from kicking off their 2007 season, he still has visions of cashing an NFL paycheck someday. But as what would be McDougle's senior season fast approaches, the chance that he has a future as a professional running back appears remote.
McDougle has become the public face of a football and men's basketball point-shaving investigation that strikes at the integrity of college sports -- and threatens to generate federal charges. Sources close to a Detroit-based FBI probe into gambling suggest prosecutors aim to present the case before a federal grand jury later this year. And though the players apparently aren't the primary targets of the FBI investigation, a number of former and possibly some current Toledo athletes could face indictment.
Away from the Toledo campus, behind closed doors an hour up the road in Detroit, federal authorities have squeezed McDougle, 22, for information. According to sources, McDougle is cooperating with investigators as they appear to be focusing on 50-year-old Ghazi Manni, the manager of a family-owned grocery in Detroit. For the time being, the U.S. Attorney's office has dropped the charges leveled in a criminal complaint against McDougle in late March, but a spokesperson for the office called it a procedural matter. Sources say the investigation remains ongoing.
There are no assurances that McDougle won't be indicted or required to testify against teammates about the alleged point-shaving or about the possibility that players shared inside information with gamblers.
One of the other names that has surfaced during the investigation, sources confirmed, is Bruce Gradkowski, the Rockets' starting quarterback in the 2003-05 seasons who now is a backup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Authorities have not spoken about Gradkowski's possible connection, but sources say investigators are examining his playing time in a number of games under scrutiny as they follow up on an allegation that Manni had offered a Toledo player $10,000 to sit out particular games.
"I don't know what to say about that," said Gradkowski, coming off the field after a recent Bucs' training camp practice. A Tampa Bay public relations assistant, who had been made aware of the focus of the interview, walked beside Gradkowski and deflected follow-up questions.
ESPN.com has traced the case over the past five months, from its start at Toledo to a gambling ring in Michigan, to Caribbean offshore gambling sites, to Las Vegas sports books. In addition, documents obtained by ESPN.com reveal that in the course of their probe, federal authorities wiretapped the cell phone of a man they identified in the past as being involved with members of La Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian organized crime family that authorities say oversees the majority of illegal gambling in the Detroit area.
The Toledo inquiry shares some similarity in that regard with the recent federal investigation into betting on NBA games. According to reports, federal authorities learned that former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who pleaded guilty to two felony charges on Aug. 15, was involved in that scheme during wiretaps of suspected organized crime associates. That investigation is being handled out of the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn, N.Y.
According to federal documents in the Toledo case, FBI agents using electronic surveillance in December 2005 heard a conversation between McDougle and Manni. In it, McDougle said he would contact other football players about helping them make some money off a game against the University of Texas at El Paso.
Agents with the FBI's organized crime squad first interviewed McDougle in December 2006, about the time the last wiretap on Manni expired. In all likelihood, according to former federal law enforcement officials familiar with the case, investigators pressed forward in March with McDougle's arrest because he either had backed off information he'd previously provided in December or his cooperation was waning in some other way.
In an interview with ESPN.com, McDougle denied any knowledge that Manni might have been gambling on Toledo games.
"Obviously, sometimes people you know [are] doing things you never know nothing about," said McDougle, who was suspended by Toledo this spring and since has been declared academically ineligible. "It opened my eyes to a lot of different things. Basically, keep the people I really trust around me. It's changed my life as far as, I don't know if I'm still going to be able to play football for the University of Toledo. But it's not going to stop me from playing football. I still feel I'm good enough to make it to the next level either way it goes."
Did he, ESPN.com asked, suspect friends or teammates of shaving points?
"Every time I ever played, I always played to the best," McDougle said. "That's how I always did. For the team, I always thought everybody was giving 110 percent. So I never felt that way."
What about allegations that Toledo basketball players were also recruited to shave points?
"I don't even know any basketball players," he said.
Have federal investigators asked whether Manni sought help to fix games?
"I mean, they asked me if I knew he did or not," he said. "I told them I didn't know what he was doing."
But they believe he did, right?
"That is what they are thinking."
A government source confirmed to ESPN.com that the probe into Toledo athletics isn't limited to football, saying investigators are also looking at basketball players. A former Toledo basketball star, Keith Triplett, told ESPN.com that his attorney has been contacted by the FBI as part of the investigation. Triplett refused to detail the discussions or identify his attorney, but he said he knows Manni, who is known to players as "Gary."
Triplett said, as did McDougle, that he was introduced to Manni by a friend, whom he declined to identify.
Although college basketball has been tarnished by a number of point-shaving scandals dating to the 1950s -- Toledo, in fact, was involved in an early scandal when a mob associate was arrested in 1951 for allegedly bribing four of its basketball players -- authorities familiar with government investigations believe the current case to be among the very few in which college football players have been suspected of illegally influencing games in which they played.
Authorities declined to name the players they are investigating.
In the meantime, back on campus, the football team has been preparing for the 2007 season without McDougle's participation. His effectiveness as a college player had spiraled precipitously downward -- and thus, presumably, his ability to directly influence games -- ever since he tore up a knee fighting to stay in bounds and run out the clock in Toledo's 35-27 victory in the Mid-American Conference title game against Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 2, 2004. Last season, with McDougle out of shape and tipping the scales just shy of 250 pounds, Toledo coaches called his number for only eight carries.
Toledo, then, is the first destination on the journey through ESPN.com's examination of the case.
Just a five-minute walk from the University of Toledo campus, on Avondale Street, sits a small brick house that McDougle called home last football season. Since he moved out, according to the house's owner, Rick Ross, the place has been cleaned up, the walls patched and painted. New carpet covers the first floor. But in December, the place was "disgusting," Ross said.
"There was dog poop everywhere, carpeting ripped up," said Ross as he showed the house to ESPN.com reporters recently. "There were some issues with dog breeding and diseases with dogs, and now I'm just finding out I got dogs buried in my yard."
Neighbors told ESPN.com that three pit bulls had been kept on the property, and they sometimes were left tied to a tree. It isn't clear who owned the dogs.
Ross, whose company owns nearly 100 rental properties close to the Toledo campus, said he evicted McDougle and three other Toledo athletes from the house in January. That is shortly after McDougle was first approached by the FBI. At the time, Ross said, the Toledo athletes were also about $3,500 behind in rent. Ross said some of the players made payments once the football coaching staff got word they were in arrears, though he can't recall McDougle paying his share.
Ross wouldn't identify the three Toledo athletes who shared the house with McDougle. Nor would he elaborate on his contact with Toledo's football staff about the overdue rent. But he described McDougle as a friendly, look-you-in-the-eye kind of guy, despite his experience with the player as a tenant.
That's a commonly heard theme. No one contacted by ESPN.com labeled McDougle a bad character. His friends and acquaintances generally are surprised he's entangled in the federal gambling investigation. In fact, according to McDougle's attorney, Scooter fails to grasp even the basics of a betting line.
"He either doesn't understand it or he is a Shakespearean actor of the highest order,'' said James Burdick, who was appointed by the court to handle McDougle's case. "I was asking him some rudimentary questions. He doesn't understand how the line works, the plus or minuses. Does he gamble $5 or $10 at a time on the roulette table or craps table? I'm sure he has. Everybody does that. Nothing illegal with that. But nobody gave him money to bet with."
McDougle's father, Harvey McDougle Sr., told ESPN.com that the authorities have overestimated his son's involvement.
"He helped [the government] as much as he could, but he doesn't know anything,'' he said. "He never bet. He never gambled with the guy or anything. He never knew this guy gambled or anything.
"My thing is, why aren't they going after [Manni]? He is the gambler. Why aren't they questioning him? Why is everything centered around Scooter?"
The original criminal complaint specified that Manni, McDougle and others bribed Toledo athletes, both football and basketball players, to influence the final scores of games so that Manni and other gamblers could ensure winning bets with illegal sports bookmakers. According to the complaint, McDougle told FBI agents that he received a car, a phone and other items of value from Manni.
Asked whether the account of gifts is true, McDougle told ESPN.com: "Right. I mean, I'd rather not say to that."
McDougle paused, then added: "The things they say he gave me, I don't have. I don't have a car. My phone is in my name. I pay my own phone bill."
Lawrence Burns, a University of Toledo spokesman, said there is no record of McDougle registering a vehicle on campus in any of the past three years. McDougle's father said his son typically gets rides from his girlfriend, a runner on the Toledo track team.
Scooter McDougle -- who, according to his father, is still enrolled at Toledo -- acknowledged knowing Manni, saying they talked "every once in a while." But he said he hadn't been aware that Manni is a gambler. McDougle said he was introduced to Manni by a former Toledo football player almost three years ago.
"I'd rather not say his name," McDougle said about the former player.
Regarding the phone conversations overheard by FBI agents, McDougle said, "I guess it was taken a different way. I guess they thought it was going somewhere ... [Manni] asked who I was playing, and that was it, really."
The scenario laid out by authorities in the criminal complaint doesn't indicate that players were asked to throw games. Instead, the players allegedly were encouraged to play to win, but by fewer points than the established Las Vegas betting line.
Harvey McDougle Sr. said his son told him that Manni had talked with a lot of the players, but "it was more, 'How is your week going? How is the game? How do you think you guys are gonna do? Good luck to you.' And that was it, really. He never wined and dined him, bought him anything, 'cause Scooter is up there [at the university] starving. He calls me every Friday. 'Dad, can you send me some money?'"
Public records indicate the McDougle family has had financial struggles. McDougle's parents filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2005. According to Virgil Brown, the court-appointed trustee, the case was closed with the finding that there weren't enough assets for creditors to pursue.
Burns, the university spokesman, said Manni hadn't shown up anywhere on the school's radar before the criminal complaint against McDougle was issued in March.
"No, no," Burns said. "Never to anyone's knowledge."
But Manni wasn't a stranger to the Toledo campus or Toledo athletics. An ESPN.com review of the pass lists for Toledo football games -- which comprises names submitted by players for complimentary tickets -- reveals that Manni and his family members were listed for three games, dating back to the 2004 season. Manni and two family members attended the 2004 Motor City Bowl in Detroit, which is one of the games of particular interest to authorities.
And, as recently as the Central Michigan game this past October, Manni's name appeared in a group that also included McDougle's parents and younger brother. Manni did not sign the pass list for that game, however, and presumably did not attend.
McDougle's parents said they'd never heard of Manni until the story broke this spring, though they've since been told that he had relationships with Toledo athletes going back almost a decade.
"I mean, Scooter is not the first guy," Harvey McDougle Sr. said. "[Manni] goes back years before he even got there. My thing is, why [Scooter]? Why now? The quarterback, Bruce [Gradkowski], I guess he knew him. I'm just going on what people say. Other players say that the guy had talked to them, but it was nothing."
Scooter's mother, Genenne McDougle, said: "So far as I know, the entire team is aware that [Manni] exists. He is known to many players."
But that's all recent knowledge, apparently. Until the past few months, Scooter McDougle hadn't been telling his parents back home in Cleveland everything about his life in Toledo and with the football team. He didn't tell them in mid-December, for example, that agents with the FBI's organized crime squad had first interviewed him.
Then, little more than three months later, he didn't tell his parents he'd been called to another meeting with the FBI, a meeting that resulted in his late March arrest, the meeting apparently designed to reinforce his cooperation with the government's case.
"Yeah, it's a squeeze play to try and get him to say things that they want him to say," said Burdick, McDougle's attorney.
The public move on McDougle could also have been meant as a signal to other Toledo athletes that they'd be wise to start cooperating, too.
In any event, the March meeting between McDougle and the FBI took place on a road out of town and without his parents' knowledge. Burdick said the player agreed to meet investigators at a highway rest stop, supposedly so they could resume their earlier conversation.
They didn't stay at the rest stop for long. The McDougles were shocked to learn that their son had been hauled into a Detroit federal court later that afternoon.
On this late May morning, Ghazi Manni was in perpetual motion in a 10-by-30-foot glass booth that sits slightly elevated at the front of King Cole Foods, the family-owned grocery store a dozen blocks or so from Comerica Park and Ford Field. He dashed about like a racehorse in full gallop -- cashing customers' checks and answering phones as he tried to keep a watchful eye on security monitors and engaged a reporter through a window slot.
He seemed at ease, and he displayed a self-deprecating sense of humor. Manni, bald on top with a smattering of black hair on the sides, was casual in a long-sleeve dark gray shirt that hung over his jeans. He is stocky, maybe 5-foot-10. He said he came to this country as a teenager, from Iraq. Manni is a member of the Chaldean sect of Christianity, which has nearly 120,000 Iraqi followers in the Detroit area.
A source says the connection between Manni and the Toledo players involved a Toledo cell phone store owner, Marvin Savaya, who says he is Manni's cousin. Savaya, 27, told ESPN.com that he has been interviewed by FBI agents but declined further comment on that meeting. He also said a number of Toledo football players, including McDougle, and at least one basketball player -- Triplett -- frequented the several stores he has owned in the vicinity of the Toledo campus over several years.
According to federal documents, FBI agents observed Manni in December 2005 meeting with Toledo players at a downtown Detroit restaurant before the group ventured over to the VIP section at Greektown Casino. The members-only Pantheon Lounge in the casino is in a back corner on the second floor, near the $2,000 blackjack tables. A hostess described membership in the lounge as being for serious bettors, telling ESPN.com, "We're looking for a minimum $7,500 [wagered] over the last six months.
On a wiretap at about the same time, investigators claim to have heard McDougle telling Manni he could recruit players to help him win money on Toledo's GMAC Bowl game against UTEP, which was played Dec. 21, 2005, in Mobile, Ala. In that wiretapped conversation, according to the criminal complaint against McDougle, the player also asked Manni to place a $2,000 bet for him on the game.
"My guess would be that they're looking at my guy more than anybody else," acknowledged Neil Fink, a prominent defense attorney who represents Manni.
Fink has advised Manni not to talk about the federal gambling case; but from behind the window slot at King Cole Foods, Manni couldn't seem to help himself. He joked with cashiers who wandered by about his newfound celebrity. When another manager entered the glass office, Manni told a reporter: "That's Bob. He's a gambler, too. Talk to him."
Manni said he hasn't had a sit-down with the feds; at least not yet.
"They tried. They came up here," he said, waving his arms wildly. "I got nothing to say to nobody."
When he was asked again about that visit, Manni showed an ESPN.com reporter a single-page federal document dated April 23, 2007. It's the best clue yet that he is near the pulse of this slow-moving investigation. The document reveals that a U.S. district court judge signed off on five separate wiretaps of Manni's phone, and that the electronic surveillance covered at least 150 days. The wiretaps were in effect intermittently from November 2005 through the end of the 2006 college football season in December.
"They make me out to be a criminal, a bad person," Manni said defiantly. "I ain't doing nothing wrong. I ain't changing my [phone] number."
This isn't the first time Manni has drawn the interest of law enforcement.
According to records, Manni was found guilty in 1999 of a felony tobacco products tax act violation. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to firearm possession by a felon and served 90 days in county jail.
As for his latest troubles and the possibility of an indictment, Manni said, "That is up to the [U.S.] Attorney's office. We haven't done nothing wrong.''
The wiretap notification is a telling barometer of the government's case. The application for surveillance initially was approved by a deputy U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., before it passed judicial scrutiny. And the four additional wiretap approvals indicate that the judge was convinced the initial surveillance had proved fruitful as the scope of the investigation expanded. The applications, which remain sealed, also spell out the intended targets.
The document Manni showed ESPN.com also disclosed another name targeted by investigators: Mitchell Karam, a businessman from the Detroit suburb of Troy. The federal district judge approved the FBI's request to tap Karam's cell phone, too, last August.
Reached by phone at his home in Troy, Karam told ESPN.com he has no idea why his phone had been tapped.
"You know, nothing surprises me anymore," he said.
Karam is a 74-year-old real estate developer. And he has ties to illegal gambling that date back three decades.
Karam -- who, like Manni, is Chaldean Iraqi -- doesn't have a criminal record, though sources familiar with federal organized crime cases said he has been previously connected with members of La Cosa Nostra in Detroit. Because of that association, sources said authorities are trying to determine if organized crime played a role in the Toledo case.
In a 1970s federal crackdown on a sports gambling syndicate in and around Detroit, Karam was identified as an alleged co-conspirator, though he was never indicted. Among other alleged (and unindicted) co-conspirators in that case were Jerome "Dizzy" Dean, the Hall of Fame pitcher, and his nephew Paul. Among the charged were Jack Lucido, a notorious bookmaker and underworld associate.
Karam subsequently was linked to Lucido through the Wolverine Golf Club, long suspected by authorities as a vehicle for money laundering and illegal gambling in Detroit. Public records reveal Karam signed the original incorporation papers in 1978 for the club, along with Sam P. Lucido, whose uncle, Salvatore "Sam" Lucido, was identified in 1963 U.S. Senate hearings as a gambling boss in the Detroit Mafia. Jack Lucido eventually bought Karam's one-third interest in the club for $65,000, causing authorities at the time to question why he was cut into the club at such a discounted rate.
Beginning in the last week of December 1986, the FBI ran court-approved wiretaps on Wolverine Golf Club phones for 106 days; and in 1992, the government indicted several members of the Lucido family on gambling and money laundering charges. All were acquitted during a highly publicized trial. Karam, who had long since sold his club interest, was not charged.
When Manni pleaded guilty to the firearm charge in 2001, his attorney on the case was Sebastian Lucido, who is now a state district judge in Michigan. Sebastian Lucido's father, Sam, founded the Wolverine Club with Karam nearly 30 years ago.
Karam refused to address suspicions about his ties to organized crime, referring questions to his son and attorney, Kenneth. When contacted by ESPN.com, Kenneth Karam said, "We have no comment."
As for why the government might tap Karam's phone, Manni said, "He's a good friend of mine. I talk to him 10 times a day."
Told of Manni's comment, Karam said, "That is very possible. I'll tell you the truth, I have the utmost respect for him."
One other thing is very possible: If government agents had been tapping the phones of Manni and Karam in fall 2005, they might have overheard a call or two from an interesting location -- the legal sports gambling capital of the country.
By early in the 2005 football season, the smart guys along the glitzy Las Vegas Strip were already voicing suspicions about Toledo games. When officials with the MGM Mirage sports book formally brought concerns to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that fall, no one yet had a clue the FBI was already onto the case. But as a precaution, the 10 sports books affiliated with MGM Mirage didn't accept bets on Toledo's final eight games. The next year, in 2006, they capped bets on Toledo at $1,000 a game.
An MGM Mirage official said the red flags that tipped them off ranged from suspicious overheard comments to larger-than-normal wagers on Toledo games, including one in the range of $20,000. Last summer, Kenny White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which makes the early betting lines used by most sports books and offshore gambling sites, also alerted the state gaming board to chatter on Toledo games.
Any especially large bet in a Las Vegas sports book requires mandatory paperwork; and so when the wager of $20,000 or so came in during the 2005 season, state officials at least had one name. But, according to Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the state gaming board, "We never were able to talk to this guy. He left."
Markling refused to identify the individual, other than to say he isn't from Las Vegas. He also said state gaming officials never contacted the FBI about their suspicions.
Back in his Detroit grocery store, Manni told ESPN.com that he frequents Las Vegas. He insisted he wasn't the gambler in question, but said he knows who made the big wager. And he firmly suspects that gambler is the link to his legal troubles, noting that the sizable wager came just before the FBI started a wiretap on his phone.
"That was when this s--- hit the fan," he said loudly.
Manni said he got calls from friends in Vegas at the time, alerting him to the gambler's heavy betting. The gambler in question, Manni said, is also a Chaldean Iraqi. Manni won't reveal the gambler's identity but said he ran a business in Toledo.
"I don't want to mention nobody's name," Manni said. "Everybody is in deep s---, know what I am saying?"
He added, "He's a gambler, big loser. Like everybody else, he loses. … He's betting with both hands. He went to Vegas and started betting stupid."
Manni said that many of his friends in the Chaldean Iraqi community enjoy gambling, including sports wagering, but he doesn't understand why that's an issue with the government. Or why anyone thinks he's at the center of a point-shaving scheme.
"We had one good year betting [in 2005], and we lost probably 10 times whatever we got back," Manni said.
Whatever Manni and his friends lost, Las Vegas officials said they suspect the dollar amounts wagered on Toledo games were much greater at places other than the legal sports books in Nevada. And like gaming officials in Vegas, proprietors at some of the places at the epicenter of Internet sports wagering were beginning to notice peculiarities about the action on Toledo, too.
In the fall of 2005, gambling industry sources affiliated with online sports betting sites on Caribbean islands also voiced concerns about Toledo games. A consultant with Intertops.com, an online sports-wagering service based in Antigua and Barbuda, told ESPN.com that the unusual betting line movement and heavy betting on Toledo's games against Temple and Fresno State concerned him.
"Four points in college football -- I won't say it's huge, but it's something you pay attention to," said Glen Walker, referring to the line movement in those two games in the weeks they were played. Walker said there was no unusual wagering on the games at Intertops, but heard there was heavy action at other offshore sites, particularly on the Temple game.
"That game should be in the bottom 20 percent as far as the line bet on it," he said. "I can remember it jumping into the top 20 percent. You normally don't see that kind of action on a game like that, that involves Temple."
An oddsmaker at another offshore site, Playfast.com, said his company slashed its wagering limit on Toledo by 80 percent before the Temple game.
"We were alerted that there might be something funny with the Toledo game and to be careful," said the oddsmaker, who didn't want his name used in this story. "When we saw the score on Saturday [in which both sides won], we said, 'It looks like that guy that called was right.'"
Despite the peculiar action at some offshore gambling sites, officials at several other prominent Internet sites, including Pinnacle Sports and The World Sports Exchange, said they didn't see any unusual wagering on those games. And that surprises some gambling experts who were aware of the increase in activity elsewhere.
"If I have a criminal mind, I'm going to get as many guys as I can to bet as many places as I can, especially offshore, where the government can't find you and there is no paper trail," said Ken Weitzner, president of Eye on Gambling, a Web site (EOG.com) that deals with gambling news and views. "Apparently, that did not happen with two of the largest sports books."
Manni told ESPN.com that none of his bets could have moved any of those lines at online sites.
"I don't know how to use a computer," he said. "So I don't know how to bet online."
Yet a Detroit-area gambler, who asked not to be named, told ESPN.com he was aware of at least one person -- also from Detroit -- who bet thousands at offshore gambling sites on the Dec. 27, 2004, Motor City Bowl game between Toledo and Connecticut. That person used his friends, known as "beards," to lay down bets on his behalf.
Walker said offshore gambling site operators who claim there was little action on the Temple and Fresno State games were not paying attention.
"Anybody who tells you there wasn't sizable money on Temple in the one game and Fresno in the other game is kidding themselves," Walker said. "Maybe they didn't experience it at their particular book, whether it be Costa Rica, Antigua or Las Vegas. There was money that showed. They're not just going to move the line. I'm sure it had to do with whoever it was who was cultivating these kids, they had them to the point where, 'Hey, what can you tell us about the game this week? Hey, Gradkowski took a hit late in the Temple game. How's he doing? He hasn't been practicing?' However it rolled into that game, I'm sure these guys thought they cornered the market."
The severity of that hit Gradkowski took late in the Temple game nearly two years ago appears to be one of the issues lingering over the continuing federal investigation.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
After a recent morning practice at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex, preseason home to the Tampa Bay Bucs, Bruce Gradkowski glistened with sweat as he walked off the field, lugging his helmet in his right hand, the thermometer on the field pushing 110 degrees. The backup quarterback in the red No. 5 jersey was being shadowed by one of the team's public relations representatives. Team officials had warned ESPN.com that Gradkowski wouldn't be allowed to field questions about the Toledo scandal.
"Do you know anything about it?" Gradkowski was asked of the gambling allegations.
"No ... " he said before the assistant PR rep cut him off.
"Anything about camp?" the team official said to the reporter.
"No, I want to ask him about this. It is important. We're doing a story on it."
"No, no," the official said.
"Let me explain it to him. People have indicated they're looking at games where people didn't play and four games where you were hurt or came out."
"I mean, I'm ... " Gradkowski said before being interrupted.
"We're done," the official said.
"Can you let him answer the question?"
"The question is finished."
"The point is, we're going to write a story about it. Do you have a reaction or not?"
"I'm just a football player that plays for my team. So I'm not ... ," was all Gradkowski could say before being led away.
Sources said Gradkowski's name has come up during the investigation because of his role as the star quarterback and, presumably, his potential influence over the outcome of games. There is no indication, however, that Gradkowski is a target of the investigation or that he might be charged. The FBI has not yet interviewed Gradkowski, according to sources, but a league security representative said the NFL is aware that the quarterback's name has been mentioned with the Toledo investigation.
Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen refused comment through a team spokesperson. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said it's a league policy not to comment on such matters, adding: "We're aware of that story, yes. It has been in the papers. But I don't think we want to go beyond that."
Ralph Cindrich, Gradkowski's agent, twice hung up when ESPN.com called about the Bucs' second-year quarterback, at one point saying: "I don't know anything about this. My client doesn't know anything about it. I don't have any comment."
Gradkowski's father, also named Bruce, said by phone from his home in Pittsburgh that his son hasn't told him much about the situation.
"Bruce never really -- we never really went into it," he said. "He just thought it was something that they were blowing out of proportion down there [in Toledo]. That is the only thing I got out of the whole thing."
If his son had been involved, Gradkowski's father said, he assumes the FBI would have spoken to the quarterback by now.
"Yeah, I would," he said. "Like, he never said anybody had approached him or anything like that. Yeah, I don't know. Even his buddies were in for my other son's [high school] graduation. His Toledo buddies. One is Lance Moore out of the [New Orleans] Saints and a couple of the other guys. And nobody talks about it."
Gradkowski's father said he has heard the reports that the FBI is looking into a number of games in which the quarterback missed playing time or didn't play at all. But he said legitimate injuries were the sole reason for any of his son's time out of the lineup, citing in particular a 2005 start he missed against Fresno State because of a concussion.
"We were out there in Fresno, and the doctor was in the room," he said. "This was maybe the morning of the game. And the doctor just refused to put Bruce in his uniform. Bruce just wanted to suit up for the game. And the doc said, 'There is no way I'm putting you in the position.' Because he had a concussion 10 days, 12 days before that up at Temple in Philly."
To the elder Gradkowski's knowledge, his son never crossed paths with Manni.
"We were up there a lot like in Toledo," he said. "It was nothing like -- they said something about the guy taking players to dinner or whatever. I know just the way my kid is, there was never nothing flashy about how they were living or anything. [He] was always struggling, looking for a handout when we would leave. The grandma would slip him some money or somebody would slip him some money. He was always looking for that $20 or something from Grandma or Mom and Dad. Like I said, he had an old car. Stuff like that."
Obviously, sports gambling insiders were noticing something odd about action on Toledo games, especially the games in which the quarterback might not have been at full strength. Among the many questions still unresolved as the case continues to unfold, though, is exactly how much attention was being paid to the wagering fluctuations by the people who monitor college sports. And how serious they considered the situation to be.
NCAA investigators had caught wind of a potential gambling issue involving Toledo by the summer of 2006, which was months before news reached the campus in northwestern Ohio. Kenny White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants told ESPN.com that he alerted NCAA officials that summer to chatter about Toledo games. By this past fall, the NCAA had heard similar concerns from the MGM Mirage, as well as from state gaming board investigators.
Larry Moore Jr., the investigator who led an initial Nevada Gaming Control Board probe in the fall of 2005, also said the state board notified the NCAA soon after that inquiry. Moore, now retired, couldn't recall how succinctly the situation was described to the NCAA, or whether point-shaving was mentioned to the college governing body at the time.
What discussions went on inside the NCAA's Indianapolis headquarters, or how seriously the information from Las Vegas was taken, remains a well-kept secret. The NCAA has repeatedly declined ESPN.com's requests for clarification on issues related to the Toledo situation, a spokesperson saying it is against policy to comment on "current, pending or potential investigations." In any event, no one in the NCAA offices picked up the phone to tip off Toledo administrators to a potential problem until mid-October 2006. And even then, the possibility of point-shaving apparently didn't come up.
That's surprising to some who have policed college sports.
"I know if I was at a school and no one told me, I'd be ticked off," said Ohio University professor Dave Ridpath, a former college compliance officer and current chairman of the Drake Foundation, a national watchdog faculty group focused on academic integrity in college sports. "The flow of information is vitally important. If the NCAA, FBI or anyone else knew about it, they had an obligation to notify the institution about what was going on, so that the institution would be able to join in the investigation and take whatever measures it could."
Toledo officials claim the first word they received of potential gambling irregularities came when Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA's point person on gambling activities, showed up on campus on Oct. 11, three days before a game against Kent State. During a meeting that lasted nearly three hours, Newman-Baker told Toledo administrators about Vegas gaming officials' concerns over a large bet placed on the upcoming Kent State game. But that meeting apparently didn't include any mention of point-shaving allegations. Toledo officials said the first time they heard about the point-shaving suspicions was on March 30, from the FBI.
On Nov. 6, Newman-Baker sent an e-mail to Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien, writing that "no additional investigation was warranted at this time."
"[The NCAA] came, took a look at our program, gave us a clean bill of health and went back," said Lloyd Jacobs, the school's president. "I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it."
But on March 30, nearly five months later, the FBI showed up, stunning Toledo officials. By the end of that evening, the university had hired Mike Glazier, a lawyer renowned for representing troubled athletic departments.
Since then, the NCAA is back on the case. Now, as fall practice proceeds, questions of athlete eligibility linger for the football and basketball teams.
Even more troubling for Toledo are the institutional control questions: Did Toledo athletic officials know of any wrongdoing? If they didn't, should they have known?
Back to Toledo
When FBI agents walked into Lloyd Jacobs' office on that morning in late March, he didn't quite know what to expect. Just two days earlier, an agent from the Detroit office had called his secretary to set up the meeting.
"They basically said that they had allegations that our players were involved in a point-shaving scandal and wanted to let us know," Jacobs told ESPN.com. "They did not say how many players. To this day, I have no idea how many players will be alleged to have been involved in this."
In the days since, Jacobs has continued the proactive approach he began when he hired Glazier within hours of the FBI visit. On July 27, at a meeting with athletic department employees, Jacobs said an internal probe revealed issues involving questionable spending practices, barter agreements, and university-funded trips for coaches and their wives that need to be addressed. He said none of these issues was critical. Moreover, Jacobs called the McDougle case an isolated incident that did not accurately represent the athletic department's culture.
Although many of the issues involving Toledo's athletic program remain unresolved, the school's president announced a three-year contract extension for athletic director Mike O'Brien that same day. At the time, Jacobs conceded that his own fate and O'Brien's are connected.
"I want you to know I'm putting my eggs in that basket. If something bad happens in the future, we're stuck with him. He goes down, I go down," he said.
Earlier, Jacobs said that, before the season's start, the eligibility for every basketball and football player other than incoming freshmen would be reviewed and that the athletes would be interviewed by athletic department officials. Part of the review, presumably, is a requirement that players sign a statement saying they have not been involved in gambling activity. As of mid-August, that process remained incomplete.
"We are at the midway point of the interviewing process, and eligibility of players has not been determined yet," said Toledo spokesman Matt Lockwood.
According to court documents, federal investigators believe McDougle's role in the alleged scandal dates to shortly after his arrival on campus in 2003, though sources say he was not the first player involved. In any event, investigators didn't begin piecing together details picked up on electronic surveillance until late in the 2005 season.
Jacobs hasn't been told where the FBI is headed. His hope is that the big targets are 60 miles away in Detroit and not the players who have suited up for the Rockets. And that, perhaps, the feds have made McDougle and the Toledo program the public face of the investigation in order to flush out the professional gamblers they really want.
"It has crossed my mind that that could be the case," Jacobs said. "But if they are after larger fish and our guys are just minnows, well, so be it. Even if that is the case, we are responsible for our own actions."
The federal authorities have yet to lay out the scope of those actions.
"It is kind of weird," said Harvey McDougle Sr. this week, "that something is going on with Michael Vick and the [NBA] referee and how quick they were able to come up with evidence and stuff like that. Here you got this stuff with Scooter and they have nothing and it is still open, though. It is kind of – I don't know what you'd call it."
The football team, meanwhile, is well into preparations for its season opener at home against Purdue on Saturday night.
Without Scooter McDougle.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. George J. Tanber contributes to ESPN.com, and can be reached at email@example.com.