Feds: Gambler met, spoke often with Toledo players

May 8, 2009 1:29 AM
Staff & Wire Reports |

The seven former football and basketball players charged in an alleged point-shaving scheme at Toledo include a running back who led the team in rushing one season and a backup who rarely carried the ball.

Four were basketball starters - one a hometown star who finished his career as Toledo's third-leading scorer and another who grew up poor in Puerto Rico and became the Mid-American Conference's freshman of the year.

The connection between all of them, federal investigators say, was a suburban Detroit businessman and gambler who made dozens of phone calls to the players, handed out cash and gifts and made large bets on Toledo games.

Investigators say the point-shaving scheme at Toledo began in the fall of 2004 and continued until 2006.

Ghazi Manni, 52, of Sterling Heights, Mich., met with different players nine times, including near the school's football stadium, at a bank and a casino in downtown Detroit, according to a federal indictment filed Wednesday.

He and Mitchell Karam, 76, of Troy, Mich., were charged with conspiracy to influence sporting contests by bribery.

The pair bet about $407,000 on 17 Toledo basketball games between November 2005 and December 2006, according to the indictment. It did not say whether the players changed the outcome in any of those games.

The indictment does not include many details about the players' alleged involvement. It does not list any football games that were part of the alleged point shaving.

It did say that Manni met three times with former running back Harvey "Scooter'' McDougle Jr. and made dozens of calls to Adam Cuomo, a running back who seldom played. Cuomo told investigators that he was the player who started the point-shaving scheme with Manni, according to documents unsealed last month in federal court in Detroit.

Investigators said the two were introduced by the manager of a cell phone store near the Toledo campus and that Cuomo recruited players to take part in the alleged scheme.

Manni twice met with basketball player Sammy Villegas at a bank near Detroit on the day after two Toledo games, the indictment said.

One of those meetings came after Manni and Karam bet $21,000 on Toledo's game against East Carolina on Dec. 21, 2005, the indictment said. Manni also met with basketball player Anton Currie at a hotel parking lot on the day of that game, the court documents said.

The Rockets beat East Carolina 73-62. Villegas scored 15 points - nine above his season average - but missed two of six free throws in the final minute and a half of the game. Currie had five points.

The indictment doesn't say which team Manni and Karam bet on or what the betting line was on the game.

Villegas, who grew up in Puerto Rico, was charged in June with shaving points and paying another to help. He was the MAC freshman of the year in 2003 but his career fell apart and he played sparingly in his senior season.

He went on to play pro basketball in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and was an alternate for Puerto Rico's Olympic team four years ago. His agent has said Villegas was cooperating with authorities. He has a sentencing date scheduled for June 18.

Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for prosecutors in Detroit, said Manni will make his first court appearance Monday. It was not known when the players would appear. None were in custody.

Messages seeking comment were left with attorneys for Manni and Karam. Manni has repeatedly said since the investigation became public that he knew many players at the school, but they did not fix any games.

The players are accused of taking part in the alleged scheme by either affecting the outcomes of games, recruiting teammates to participate or by giving the two businessmen information so that they could place wagers on the games.

The other basketball players charged are Currie, 25; Kashif Payne, 24; and Keith Triplett, 29.

Triplett and Villegas were among five returning starters in 2004-05 when the Rockets were a heavy favorite to win the MAC. But Toledo struggled through much of the season, finishing 16-13.

Triplett led Toledo in scoring as a senior and he's still the school's all-time steals leader and third in points scored. His grandfather, Mel Triplett, was a fullback at Toledo and later played on the New York Giant's 1956 NFL championship team.

Keith Triplett said two years ago that he knew Manni, but was never asked to shave points. His attorney, Ray Richards, said Wednesday the former Toledo player was innocent.

Also charged were former football players: Adam Cuomo, 31; Harvey "Scooter'' McDougle Jr., 24; and Quinton Broussard, 25. All three were running backs.

McDougle and Broussard led the Rockets in rushing in 2004, but neither lived up to expectations a year later. Injuries derailed much of McDougle's career. He was first linked to point shaving when he was charged two years ago.

Those charges were dropped within a month. A criminal complaint filed then said McDougle told FBI investigators he received a car, telephone and other items of value, but he insisted he never changed the way he played to affect the outcome of games.

The complaint also said that McDougle told Manni that he and another player would be helping to make money on a game between Toledo and Texas-El Paso. The Rockets went on to beat UTEP 45-13 in the 2005 GMAC Bowl.

McDougle has denied involvement and thought he was no longer a target. He told the Associated Press two weeks ago that he was hoping to land a tryout with an NFL or a minor league team.

McDougle's attorney, James Burdick, said the indictment released Wednesday was short on details about the football players.

"I see a lot of conversations, but I don't see any games that were fixed,'' Burdick said Thursday. "That's not a conspiracy.''

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