Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Report confirms Donaghy was the only corrupt referee, clears NBA

A long-awaited report released yesterday by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz found that Tim Donaghy was the only NBA referee engaged in illegal gambling and dismissed his claims of game manipulation orchestrated by league executives.

The 116-page report, the result of a 14-month internal investigation ordered by NBA commissioner David Stern in the wake of the Donaghy betting scandal, makes several recommendations for how the league can tighten its anti-gambling rules and officiating program.

But Pedowitz' message to basketball fans who bought into Donaghy's accusations of fixed games and crooked league executives is clear: They ain't true.

Pedowitz, the former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, said his team conducted about 200 interviews and reviewed game tapes, and "discovered no evidence that the league has ever put a thumb on the scales and asked referees to call games to favor particular teams or players."

"We have found, in fact, that the league sends an unequivocal message to referees that they should be accurate and consistent," he said in a conference call yesterday.

Pedowitz also found no proof to support Donaghy's claims, made by his attorney in court filings prior to his July sentencing on federal wire-fraud and gambling charges, that referees pushed the 2002 Western Conference finals to a seventh game by favoring Los Angeles over Sacramento in Game 6.

"We took a hard look at this; it was clearly not a well-refereed game. There were a lot of errors," he said, but the refs did not make calls that intentionally favored either team.

The investigation also found no evidence that referees' relationships with players or coaches had impacted the outcome of games.

The report essentially exonerated referee Scott Foster, a close friend of Donaghy's whose frequent phone calls to and from the corrupt ref were detailed in July in a Fox News story that triggered speculation that Foster might have been involved with gambling.

There are "innocent explanations" for the 134 calls Donaghy placed to Foster between October 2006 and April 2007, which includes the period during which Donaghy was providing basketball "picks" to two of his classmates from Cardinal O'Hara High, according to the report.

During the time Donaghy was providing confidential NBA information to James "Baba" Battista, of Phoenixville, and Thomas Martino, of Boothwyn - they were convicted of interstate gambling and wire fraud, respectively - Foster spoke almost as frequently to Donaghy as he did to referee Matt Boland. And he placed many calls to other refs who are his friends.

Foster, who was hired by the NBA during the 1994-95 season along with Donaghy, declined to comment yesterday.

The report did find that 52 of the league's 57 referees had engaged in "some form of betting" - but not on basketball games - that included trips to the casinos or the race track. Stern was already aware of those findings. The officiating rules have since been changed to allow referees to bet at race tracks or casinos during the offseason.

Yesterday's report does not fully answer the question of how Donaghy, Martino and Battista were able to consistently make correct picks - reportedly with a success rate of 60 to 70 percent - if neither Donaghy nor any other referee had manipulated the games.

Donaghy said in court that he made the picks by knowing which officiating crews were assigned to particular games, the physical condition of players and "the manner in which officials interacted with players and called games."

Referee schedules, which were previously confidential, are now made public on the morning of a game.

Asked yesterday how Donaghy and his associates could bet so successfully with only that limited information, Stern said: "I don't know. I've thought about it and I cannot tell you other than what may be the fact of inside or information of a type having to do with player injury and the status of rosters.

"If you have a little bit of information that the public doesn't have, that increases your odds," he said.

Pedowitz said all the NBA referees denied any bias toward teams or players, but, he said, "There's always the risk that the referee's ego is going to get in the way of correct calling. And that is the perception of the some of the teams, that some of the referees do that on occasion."

He recommended that teams be allowed to file complaints of biased refereeing with retired Army Major Gen. Ronald Johnson, senior vice president of referee operations, and that Johnson and Joel Litvin, president of league and basketball operations, report periodically to the NBA audit committee - which is made up of team owners - so there is transparency in how the complaints are handled.

Pedowitz also recommended creating a hotline where league and team employees can "anonymously raise questions and report problems concerning gambling and game integrity issues," and said the NBA should make referees more accessible to fans and the news media.

As for the recommendations in the report, Stern said, "We're going to implement all of them." *

WILLIAM BENDER benderw@phillynews.com
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