Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NBA official agrees to rat, if he can find somebody who hasn't already ratted on him

While it's not a Texas case, as a sports fan I'm fascinated by the recent turn of events in the prosecution of former N.B.A. referee Tim Donaghy, who faces allegations that he betted on NBA games he refereed.

Donaghy, though, could be transformed through the magic of a federal 5K agreement from a cheating sleazeball gambling addict into the state's star witness - against whom, we cannot say yet. Doc Berman points to this New York Times coverage (5/20) of Donaghy's decision to become a snitch to lessen his prospective federal sentence:

A lawyer for the former N.B.A. referee Tim Donaghy suggested in court papers Monday that games had been influenced by relationships among referees, coaches and players, and that other factors had “prevented games from being played on a level playing field.” The league immediately denounced the charges as unfounded.

According to documents filed by the lawyer, John Lauro, Donaghy provided law enforcement officials with information about N.B.A. matters outside of the government’s original investigation. That included information about the gambling activities of other referees and an instance in which confidential information was suspected of being passed from a referee to a coach.

Lauro filed a letter and several attachments as part of a sentencing memorandum, which is to be considered by United States District Judge Carol B. Amon. Donaghy, who pleaded guilty last August to two felony charges, is to be sentenced July 14. Donaghy could face up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for receiving payments for inside information on N.B.A. games, including some that he officiated. But he is expected to receive a much lighter sentence because he cooperated with the authorities.

In a footnote to the document, Lauro suggested that the N.B.A. might have “pressured” the United States attorney’s office “into shutting down this prosecution to avoid the disclosure of information unrelated to Tim’s conduct.”...

The N.B.A. dismissed all of Lauro’s charges without responding to specific statements. “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 N.B.A. referees engaged in casino gambling in violation of N.B.A. rules,” Joel Litvin, the N.B.A. president for league and basketball operations, said in a statement. “The letter is the desperate act of a convicted felon who is hoping to avoid prison time, and the only thing it proves is that Mr. Donaghy is no more trustworthy today than he was when he was breaking the law by betting on N.B.A. games.”

In his letter, Lauro wrote that Donaghy “provided substantial assistance” to the government and asked the judge to impose only probation. “We believe that Tim’s information will lead to future reforms that will change the way in which the N.B.A. conducts itself,” Lauro wrote....

Berman takes this news to mean that Donaghy's defense may put the NBA itself on trial. I'd interpret it to mean Donaghy hopes to cut a plea deal, and let the feds put somebody else, anybody else, on trial. So far, though, they appear to have already decided to make him the fall guy.

Here's a terrific example of how law enforcement's attempt to "flip" an informant can thwart justice instead of further it. I seriously doubt from the allegations made public so far that Donaghy has information other NBA referees bet on games, or committed anywhere near the level of malfeasance he himself displayed. But the possible 25 year federal sentence gives Donaghy only one avenue to shorten his prison time: Becoming an informant against somebody else.

Mr. Donaghy probably figures what's good for the goose is good for the gander. CBS News reported over the weekend that Donaghy's lawyer "criticized federal prosecutors in the court papers for agreeing to a plea deal with Donaghy's two co-conspirators James Battista and Thomas Martino on the eve of their trial last month. He contends that they were charged with far more serious offenses stemming from the gambling scheme than Donaghy."

So Donaghy watched as the feds allowed more serious offenders to get light sentences in order to prosecute him because of his (relative) celebrity, and now he wants to rat out NBA types higher up the food chain in exchange for a lighter sentence, though so far little of the activity he's alleged seems overtly criminal. As this Orlando Sentinel columnist wrote, "The problem with all these unnamed coaches, referees and players is that the accusations cast doubt on a lot of innocent people who haven't been involved in any such activity."

However, Donaghy's not solely to blame for that outcome. His decision is entirely rational in the context of a federal judicial system that goes easy on serious offenders if they'll rat out the small fry. The "5K" informant exception to federal sentencing guidelines, combined with prosecutors publicity-driven use of that provision, contributes greatly to this situation. Nearly equally to blame is a media culture that encourages such decisions and eggs on each new, salacious allegation.

BTW, while we're on the topic of professional b-ball, let the haters and carpetbaggers whine about it, but: Go Spurs!


Pliggy said...

Yea, beat them dreaded Lakers! (Oh wait, the Spurs are a part of Texas)


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Now, now! I'll try to convince Texans not to paint all FLDS with one brush, and maybe you can return the favor on Texans' behalf.:) This blog is "part of Texas," too, after all - at least just as much as a basketball team with a point guard from France! (To his credit, though, at least Tony Parker marry a local girl.)