TOLEDO, Ohio Sammy Villegas was the Mid-American Conference freshman of the year. The following season he helped Toledo reach the National Invitation Tournament.
Villegas seemed ready to become a star, but everything fell apart in his final two seasons. He couldn't score. His playing time dropped off. His coaches were mystified.
Now, federal prosecutors say Villegas was shaving points in some games during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Villegas also paid another player who took part in point-shaving, prosecutors said. The other player was not charged or named in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
Villegas has a sentencing date scheduled for Nov. 18, although there is nothing filed that indicates he has entered a plea. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit would not say whether Villegas was helping with the investigation.
"We're letting the information speak for itself," Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the office, said Thursday.
Villegas is free on bond and does not face travel restrictions, she said. He played pro basketball this year in the Dominican Republic and his native Puerto Rico.
His former guardian in Ohio said Thursday that he had known about the investigation for quite awhile.
"All we told him was tell the truth and cooperate," said Richard Warren, a county judge in Lima. "He didn't say what happened."
He called Villegas a free-spirit with a childlike innocence. "That's the way he's always been," Warren said.
Warren has been unable to reach Villegas over the past month. Messages seeking comment were left with Villegas' attorney, John Belanger of Sterling Heights, Mich.
Villegas' agent in Puerto Rico said the player is cooperating with federal authorities, but he is not speaking to the media based on his attorney's advice.
"For us, the most important thing is that our client is properly represented, and we understand that with time, everything will be solved," Next Level president Giddel Padilla said in a statement to The Associated Press. Villegas could not be reached for comment at the hotel where he is staying in San Pedro de Macoris.
He is charged with conspiracy to influence sports contests by bribery and received money and other gifts in exchange for fixing games, prosecutors said. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
An alternate for Puerto Rico's Olympic basketball team four years ago, Villegas came to the United States when he was 16 and hoped to land a college scholarship.
He grew up poor, and spoke little English, yet he still managed to make an impression on coaches at Toledo.
Villegas started every game as a freshman and the next season he averaged 13.8 points per game, leading the Rockets to only their second 20-win season in 20 years.
Friends were telling him that he had a shot at the NBA if he put together a strong junior season. But instead, he lost his reliable outside shooting touch and never found it over his last two seasons.
"I just saw it spiraling," said James Stafford, a former Toledo assistant. "We all thought the pressure was getting to him."
Villegas saw limited time his senior year and averaged just 6 points per game.
"He still came into the gym and practiced his shot," Stafford said. "He just couldn't make shots."
His slump coincided with when prosecutors said he began taking part in the point-shaving scheme. Court documents said he met with or talked to a conspirator from Michigan 10 times in 2005 and 2006.
He intentionally missed two free throws in a game on Feb. 4., 2006, prosecutors said.
On that day, Toledo beat Central Michigan 78-62. Villegas hit his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer, but missed two free throws in the final minute.
Stafford said he was not convinced Villegas ever shaved points.
"I'm not going to say there was no way in the world they could have done that," Stafford said. "But I don't think so. I didn't see anything like that."
He said he trusted Villegas enough to let him baby-sit his sons. He knew there were rumors about point-shaving after he left, but never expected Villegas to be linked to them.
"It was one of the last names I would have expected to see," Stafford said.
Prosecutors didn't say how many games were involved or who paid the players.
The case against Villegas comes just over a year after a Toledo football player was accused in a gambling scheme. Those charges, though, were dropped. Prosecutors said a Michigan gambler recruited players to affect the outcome of Rockets football and basketball games.
The gambler, who has not been charged, has been identified as Gary Manni of Sterling Heights.
Manni told The (Toledo) Blade on Wednesday that he knew many Toledo athletes including Villegas, but he was not involved in a point-shaving scheme. "Seriously, one person cannot change the outcome of a game," Manni said. "They're just assuming things."
The interim president of Puerto Rico's basketball association said he'll wait before deciding whether Villegas can continue to play there.
"If found guilty, it would affect his eligibility to play in Puerto Rico," Ruben Nigaglioni said.
Villegas is currently playing in the Dominican Republic with the Cocolos of San Pedro de Macoris, said Fernando Quinones, owner of the San German Athletics, the Puerto Rican team for which Villegas also plays.
"We are as surprised as the rest of Puerto Rico is," he said. "We understand that everyone is presumed innocent, and we will wait until the evidence is presented."
NCAA officials, meanwhile, have been in contact with the university along with law enforcement and Las Vegas gaming officials, said NCCA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn.
Associated Press writer Omar Marrero contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.