NEW YORK Disgraced ex-NBA official Tim Donaghy admitted that he'd brought shame on his profession Tuesday as a federal judge sentenced him to 15 months behind bars for a gambling scandal that still has the league on the defensive.
U.S. District Judge Carol Amon sentenced Donaghy to prison time plus three years of supervised release, saying he'd let the sport down by taking thousands of dollars from a professional gambler in exchange for inside tips on games including ones he refereed.
"The NBA, the players and the fans relied on him to perform his job in an honest manner," Amon said. Donaghy listened with his arms folded but showed no emotion.
He told the judge that "I've brought shame on myself, my family and the profession."
Defense attorney John Lauro asked Amon to give his 41-year-old client probation, saying the ex-official was a gambling addict who destroyed "the career he loved" and needed treatment, not incarceration. Donaghy also had sought to make amends by revealing "the good, the bad and the ugly" about the league's officiating, the attorney added.
During the NBA finals, Donaghy said in a court filing that the league routinely encouraged refs to ring up bogus fouls to manipulate results, while discouraging them from calling technical fouls on star players.
In the end, Amon refused Donaghy's plea to stay out of prison, though she imposed a penalty that was not as tough as the 33 months he could have received. Donaghy must surrender to prison on Sept. 23.
Case closed for him. For the NBA, the damage lingers.
Commissioner David Stern has made several moves to
quell doubts about the integrity of the NBA's officiating, with more developments to come.
Former Army Gen. Ron Johnson has been hired as senior vice president of referee operations, Bernie Fryer and Joe Borgia were promoted to new management positions and the league reassigned Ronnie Nunn, who had been the director of officials for five years.
Still pending is a league-commissioned review of officiating by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz. "I am conducting additional interviews and hope to obtain additional information from the government. My review is well-advanced but not complete," Pedowitz said Tuesday. No date has been set for the report's release.
Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at Penn's Wharton School, who co-authored a study that said white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players, said the league needs to share all the information it has.
"Any fan who sees anything other than transparency will have questions," he said. "I think they want to be as much of an open book with fans, journalists and researchers as they can possibly be."
Perhaps most shocking were Donaghy's charges during the highly anticipated finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers that results were manipulated to help ticket sales and television ratings.
The allegations contained in court papers arguing that Donaghy deserved leniency for voluntarily disclosing the alleged corruption included one instance claiming referees rigged a 2002 playoff series to force it to a revenue-boosting seventh game.
Though the papers didn't name the teams involved, only the Los Angeles Lakers-Sacramento Kings series went to seven games during those playoffs. The Lakers went on to win the championship.
Both Stern and the league's officials have said Donaghy made the claims to get a lighter sentence.
"We anticipate that the judge's sentencing decision, together with the changes we have made to our referee operations staff, will enable us to continue with the improvements we are making to our anti-gambling rules, policies and procedures," Stern said Tuesday.
"There is little comfort to be gained from the mandatory prison sentence, especially as it affects Mr. Donaghy's children and their mother, but hopefully the healing process can begin in earnest for all."
The NBA could get a break from the Olympics, where the U.S. team is a heavy favorite to bounce back from a bronze-medal performance in 2004 and win the gold. MVP Kobe Bryant and all-star LeBron James, who has guaranteed victory, will lead a loaded U.S. team.
Donaghy pleaded guilty last August to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce in the tips-for-payoffs scheme. "By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games," he told a judge at the time.
Lauro said that to clear his conscience, Donaghy began cooperating with prosecutors even before he was charged, and claimed he "provided the government a roadmap" to widespread misconduct in the NBA.
"He told it all the good, the bad and the ugly," Lauro said. "He had to do it because it was the right thing to do ... The bottom line is that Mr. Donaghy has been a model cooperator."
Prosecutors have said that though he deserved credit for helping make the case against two co-defendants both former high school classmates of Donaghy nothing else he alleged was criminal.
At a sentencing last week, James Battista, a professional gambler and admitted drug addict, got 15 months in prison for making bets based on inside tips. Thomas Martino, the scheme's middleman, was sentenced to a year and one day for paying the referee thousands of dollars for the tips. The three men attended school together in Springfield, Pa.
On Tuesday, the judge called Donaghy "more culpable" than the others. "Without Mr. Donaghy, there was no scheme," she said.
The league had demanded nearly $1.4 million in restitution. But the judge last week set the restitution at $217,266, to be paid jointly by the three defendants.
"Tim acted in a completely selfish and unforgivable way, and has forever compromised the way people look at sports and officiating," said Lamell McMorris, spokesperson for the National Basketball Referees Association. "However, NBA referees will continue to officiate with the highest level of integrity and professionalism."