Attorney drops bombshell accusations, argues for probation for Donaghy

NEW YORK -- Disgraced basketball referee Tim Donaghy told investigators in the NBA betting probe that relationships among officials, coaches and players "affected the outcome of games," his attorney said. The league said the charges were unfounded.

Donaghy's attorney made the assertions in a letter filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Monday, in which he argued that his client should be sentenced to probation because he fully cooperated with prosecutors and has been undergoing treatment for his gambling addiction.

The attorney also suggested that Donaghy told investigators about the gambling activities of other NBA officials and about a referee who passed "confidential" information to an unidentified coach.

The attorney, John F. Lauro, wrote that the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District agreed to plea agreements with other defendants in the case, even though his client told investigators about NBA matters outside of the government's initial investigation. Lauro said the disparity in treatment could not be fully explained because prosecutors have "surrounded this case with a cone of silence."

The U.S. attorney's office said Tuesday it has no comment.

In a footnote, the attorney suggested that the NBA might have "pressured" the attorney's office "into shutting down this prosecution to avoid the disclosure of information unrelated to Tim's conduct."

"The letter filed today on Mr. Donaghy's behalf contains an assortment of lies, unfounded allegations, and facts that have been previously acknowledged, such as the fact that certain NBA referees engaged in casino gambling in violation of NBA rules," said Joel Litvin, the NBA president for league and basketball operations, in a statement. "The letter is the desperate act of a convicted felon who is hoping to avoid prison time."

Lauro took exception to Litvin's response, saying the league should consider the information Donaghy willingly gave to investigators rather than vilify his client.

"The remarks by NBA president Joel Litvin were unfortunate and ill-advised," Lauro said in a statement released Tuesday. "Rather than seeking to implement much-needed reforms, the NBA has chosen instead to attack the messenger. Following a thorough and exhaustive investigation, federal law enforcement officials have concluded that Tim provided honest and trustworthy assistance to them.

"If the NBA takes issue with any of Tim's cooperation, then perhaps it should release the results of an internal investigation conducted by its counsel over the last year."

Donaghy, 42, pleaded guilty last August to felony charges for taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on games he officiated. Donaghy's sentencing was pushed back to July 14 on Monday; by law, he faces up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, though the term could be much lower under sentencing guidelines.

While citing Donaghy's commitment to his family, charitable activities and positive feedback for his career as a referee prior to his "tragic fall from grace," his attorney said that his client's "aberrant conduct" can be understood only in the context of his gambling addiction, a "crippling disease, which prevented him from exercising complete rational self control."

Lauro wrote that Donaghy is taking steps to get treatment for his condition, including therapy with a gambling counselor and attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

"Without a doubt, Tim made significant errors in judgment, but he also tried to right the wrongs of his conduct by assisting the government and seeking treatment for his disorder," Lauro wrote.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.