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N.B.A. Referee Pleads Guilty to Gambling Charges

    Tim Donaghy left the basketball court as a disgraced former N.B.A. referee in July and left a federal court room yesterday as an admitted criminal, a conspirator and a gambling addict.

Donaghy’s downfall and the resulting scandal that has threatened the National Basketball Association’s integrity, came into focus when Donaghy, 40, surrendered to federal authorities and pleaded guilty to two felonies during a hearing at the United States District Court in Brooklyn.

For four years, Donaghy bet on N.B.A. games, including some that he officiated. For at least five months — starting in December 2006 — he advised professional gamblers about which teams to pick, through telephone calls and coded language. And he violated one of the primary tenets for referees by providing the gamblers with information about referee assignments, relationships between referees and players and the health of players.

Those details were disclosed when the charges were unsealed in the 10th-floor court room of Judge Carol B. Amon.

In providing that confidential information, which violates N.B.A. rules, Donaghy essentially engaged in the sports equivalent of insider trading. In his guilty plea, he said he participated in a scheme to deprive the N.B.A. of his honest services.

“I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of N.B.A. games,” Donaghy said. He was paid to make picks on games, initially earning $2,000 for each correct pick and later $5,000, according to court records. Two men who are suspected of conspiring with Donaghy — Thomas Martino, 41, and James Battista, 42 — were arraigned later yesterday.

Donaghy, appearing for the first time since the accusations became public last month, arrived in court in an olive-green suit and a yellow collarless shirt. He appeared stoic and steady, and spoke in quiet tones when he answered Judge Amon’s questions.

Donaghy disclosed that he was under a doctor’s care for a gambling addiction, and that he was taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. His lawyer, John Lauro, said it was the gambling problem that led Donaghy to his eventual criminal actions.

“I think he has had a severe gambling problem for a while that went untreated,” Lauro told reporters. “And, unfortunately, he didn’t get the proper care that is needed, and now he is getting that care.”

Donaghy, who resigned as a referee last month before the case became public, did not speak to reporters. He entered and left the courthouse through a private entrance.

The charges did not suggest that authorities were investigating criminal accusations against any other referee. It remains unclear whether Donaghy’s cooperation with the F.B.I. will reveal any other type of misconduct by his colleagues that could lead to their firing or other discipline short of criminal charges.

The government’s case, presented by the assistant United States attorneys Thomas Seigel and Jeffrey Goldberg, did not contain accusations of point shaving or game fixing. But the government’s investigation continues.

Court records list two dates on which Donaghy spoke with a gambler by telephone to provide his pick on an N.B.A. game, and two other dates on which he received payment. It is not clear whether Donaghy was providing information about games that he officiated, or about other games.

Donaghy, according to the records, spoke with a gambler on or about Dec. 13, 2006, the same night that he officiated a game in Philadelphia between the 76ers and the Boston Celtics. (Boston won, 101-81.) The next day, Donaghy met with the gambler in Philadelphia received a payment.

Donaghy also spoke with a gambler on or about Dec. 26, the same night that he refereed a game in Washington between the Wizards and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Washington won, 106-101.) Donaghy received a payment while in Toronto on or about March 11, the same night that he refereed a game between the Raptors and the Seattle SuperSonics.

In separate documents, the government names Martino and Battista as the gamblers with whom Donaghy spoke, and names Martino as the one who made payments in Phoenix (January 2007), Toronto (March 2007) and Washington (April 2007).

Donaghy, who was released on $250,000 bond, faces up to 25 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9. He turned in his passport and cannot travel outside of New York, Florida or Pennsylvania.

The N.B.A. learned of the investigation on June 20, according to Commissioner David Stern, who in July referred to Donaghy as “a rogue, isolated criminal.” Stern was unavailable for comment yesterday but issued a statement reiterating the league’s intent to improve its referee oversight.

“As expected, former N.B.A. referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty today to betting on N.B.A. games, including games in which he officiated, and providing confidential information to others who bet on N.B.A. games,” Stern said. “We will continue with our ongoing and thorough review of the league’s officiating program to ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place to protect the integrity of our game.”

Donaghy was an N.B.A. referee for 13 years. His gambling on games began four years ago, and he began receiving payment for betting recommendations — including games that he officiated — in about December 2006, according to an affidavit filed by the F.B.I.

The N.B.A. hired a company to investigate Donaghy in 2005, after learning of a dispute with his neighbors in West Chester, Pa. The league also looked into assertions that Donaghy was gambling at an Atlantic City casino that did not have a sports book. Stern said in July that investigators found no evidence that Donaghy had gambled at casinos in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

The revelation that Donaghy had been betting on games for four years — against league regulations — underscores the N.B.A.’s inability to detect such conduct. League officials declined to comment further yesterday about their plans for improving oversight.

A lawyer for Battista, who attended the same high school as Donaghy in Springfield, Pa., said his client would fight the charges brought against him.

The counts against Donaghy are conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and conspiracy to transmit wagering information over state lines, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of his plea, Donaghy also will forfeit $30,000, which is believed to represent a part of the money he was paid by gamblers.


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