Defense says Donaghy couldn't help himself; sentencing today

For Tim Donaghy, 1994 was the beginning of the end - the first of his 13 years as an NBA referee, and the moment when his "pathological" gambling addiction took root on the golf course.

So says Stephen Block, a gambling treatment counselor whose evaluation was submitted yesterday to U.S. District Judge Carol Amon in an effort to reduce the ex-ref's jail term.

Donaghy - who is to be sentenced today in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., for providing basketball picks to two friends in exchange for cash payments - began betting in 1994 at local country clubs, Block wrote.

But the friendly bets escalated to as high as $500 a hole as the Havertown native developed a gambling habit that would eventually cost him his career and mar the NBA's reputation. He also played cards at the country clubs and blackjack at casinos, according to the counselor.

Block said the situation had spiraled out of control long before Donaghy, 41, pleaded guilty in August to federal wire-fraud and gambling charges.

"Mr. Donaghy's repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling demonstrate that he was not merely a casual gambler. He was simply unable to control his betting," wrote Block, a counselor for the SAFE Foundation, a New York-based treatment program for gamblers and substance abusers.

Block, who evaluated Donaghy in January at the request of his defense team, said Donaghy is a pathological gambler whose "illness was the genesis of the illegal conduct in this case."

"Mr. Donaghy committed the offense while suffering from a significantly reduced mental capacity and that reduced capacity contributed substantially to the commission of the offense," he wrote.

He said Donaghy didn't bet because he was greedy, "but to feed his gambling addiction."

"Unlike alcoholics or drug addicts, there are no outward symptoms of pathological gambling addiction. No blood test can reveal the disease," Block wrote. "As in the case of Mr. Donaghy, many gamblers function for years with no consequence."

Donaghy will face the consequences today. He could receive up to 33 months in prison under federal guidelines, but is expected to receive a lighter sentence from Amon because he cooperated in the investigation and blew the whistle on conspirators James "Baba" Battista and Thomas Martino.

Battista, of Phoenixville, was sentenced last week to 15 months in prison for interstate gambling. Martino, of Boothwyn, received a year and a day in prison for wire fraud. *