Reformed mobster believes Donaghy might not be alone
Tim Donaghy was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He was an All-American kid who played baseball and basketball in high school and then attended Villanova University. Following college, Donaghy eventually would reach the pinnacle of his chosen profession -- a referee in the National Basketball Association.
Henry Hill grew up in the hardscrabble streets of East New York in Brooklyn. He was hardly a student, spending most of his days hanging out with the gangsters who held court across the street from his parents' home. Hill and his colleagues would go on to commit some of the most notorious crimes of the past 30 years.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Once you cross the line, like Tim Donaghy is accused of doing, you're just another criminal.
You can't avoid the name Tim Donaghy these days.
If you don't know who Henry Hill is, then stop what you're doing and go and rent "Goodfellas." It's the 1990 Martin Scorsese film based on Hill's life as a soldier in the Lucchese crime family in New York City.
If you've seen the movie, you know about the Lufthansa heist (in which Hill's crew stole $5.8 million from a vault at JFK Airport), the cocaine dealing (this was the genesis of Hill's downfall, courtesy of the Nassau County narcotics task force), the violence, the murders all of it. Sure, that all led to Hill ending up in the FBI's witness protection program, but there's one story "Goodfellas" didn't tell you and it's this story that brings Hill together with Donaghy more than David Stern would ever like to think about.
Henry Hill was the mastermind behind the the Boston College point shaving scandal in the 1978-79 season.
And Hill believes this latest scandal could be a lot bigger than just Donaghy, as the allegations against him currently suggest.
"There's still a million ways to do it today," says Hill. "That's why [Donaghy] didn't get caught for so long." Plus, Hill adds, "the government works in strange ways. They'll let you go and go and go until they have a huge case against you. Right when you think you won't get caught the feds reel you in and you're hanging from their fishing poles. Now, with this whole NBA thing? Forget it. Now that everyone is talking they have computer records, they have everything. It's going to get a whole lot bigger than this you wait for the trial. This is going to be the tip of the iceberg. This guy Donaghy is in a lot of freakin' trouble."
Hill always was looking to make his next score. He was a good earner for Jimmy "The Gent" Burke (Jimmy Conway in the movie, played by Robert De Niro) and Paul Vario (Paul Cicero in the movie, played by Paul Sorvino) and when he had an idea about a scam or a robbery, it usually worked out. So when Hill approached them with his latest idea, everyone jumped at the chance to make a few bucks. The idea: Get a couple guys on the Boston College basketball team to shave points off the spread so Hill and his friends could lay bets all over town and clean up.
Why Boston College? For one reason -- Hill had an "in."
Back in 1978, one of Hill's associates was Paul Mazzei, a former inmate with Hill from Pittsburgh who helped set up a lucrative cocaine business after the two got out of prison. With this new powerful connection to one of the major organized crime families, Mazzei always was bragging to his friends back home about his ties.
"Paul would talk a big game to his friends about his organized crime connections, and how they could make the [B.C.] thing happen," says Ed McDonald, who at the time was the attorney in charge of the Organized Crime Strike Force in NYC. "One of Mazzei's friends from Pittsburgh was a guy named Tony Perla, who was a librarian at a junior high school. I know, you can't make this stuff up. His brother, Rocco, grew up with a guy named Rick Kuhn who at the time was on the B.C. basketball team."
One summer when Kuhn was back in Pittsburgh, Rocco asked his friend if he was interested, it went up the chain to Mazzei and then to Hill and his crew in New York and the fix was on.
Kuhn wasn't some 18-year-old babe in the woods who just got caught up with the wrong people. He had been a pitcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization before he blew his arm out, so he arrived on the B.C. campus as a 23-year-old with a few years of pro ball under his belt.
"I'll tell you, because Kuhn was older, he knew what was going on, he was definitely calling the shots," says Hill. "He brought in the captain of the team and the leading scorer because he had to -- he tried to shave points and he messed up a couple games. We are all losing money until those other guys came on board."
WHERE'S HENRY NOW?
Today Henry Hill has turned in his titles of point shaver, witness and gangster for more benevolent ones.
Meet the new Henry Hill: father, artist, restaurateur and entrepreneur.
Hill sells his art on eBay, he's opening a restaurant in New Haven, Conn., called Henry Hill's Goodfellas and his tomato sauce, Henry Hill's Sunday Gravy, will be for sale at stores and on the Internet in August.
"I'm surviving. I'm doing better than surviving, I'm existing," says Hill. "I have a bunch of irons in the fire and I shouldn't even be here."
"That's right," adds McDonald. "I used to call them 'The Gang That Could Shoot Straight.' If it were left to Kuhn, they wouldn't have made a dime."
Kuhn, the team's starting center, soon recruited two other starters. Payment was set at $2,500 to $3,500 per player, per game. At times, cocaine was used as payment for Kuhn, and he wasn't even good at that.
"We found out that one time, when B.C. was on their way to a tournament in Hawaii, Kuhn lost a whole thing of coke in the airplane bathroom," says McDonald.
All three players were on board and everyone was "winning." Hill adds, "It was great, there was a lot of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and missed shots."
The questions swirling around Donaghy now include whether he made certain calls that affected games or point spreads, and whether anyone should have noticed.
"It's harder than you think if you're not looking for it," says Hill. "At B.C., we had three guys cooperating with us and even the coach didn't notice. Well, there was a little suspicion, but we made it through the season OK. We didn't think anything of it. I know I didn't."
As far as money, even though it's 2007, the Gambino crime family wouldn't make Donaghy fill out a W-2. Organized crime is still a cash business.
"Here's how he probably did it," says Hill. "You get a nephew or a cousin or someone you trust. You meet them in a restaurant somewhere and you have them hand you the envelope. And it's cash. Always cash. Nothing on the Internet or with a bank. That stuff is too traceable. If it's more than that we get word to you to leave your keys on your tire, when you come back there's a bag of money in your trunk. Like I said, there's a million ways to do it."
But how did Henry Hill get caught? He didn't. He gave himself up.
After the Lufthansa heist in 1978, Jimmy Burke started eliminating everyone involved to avoid any possibility that someone would turn informant -- and send him to jail for the rest of his life.
"Everyone in town knew who did it, they just couldn't prove it," says Hill. "First the feds would come to my house with B.S. warrants, then they started coming with pictures of the bodies. Everyone got whacked here. Eleven guys, including two guys' wives, got it. I started to see the writing on the wall, but wasn't sure until I heard the tape."
It was the tape that would end Hill's career in the mafia and begin a series of trials as a government witness. A record Hill is proud of: "Hey, we went 11 for 11. All convictions."
On that tape Hill heard Jimmy Burke talking to Paul Vario. "I hear Jimmy talking about me," says Hill. "Jimmy says, 'We gotta whack him.' I couldn't believe it. That floored me. I thought I was immune to all that because of how tight I was with those two guys. In the end it didn't matter."
Almost immediately, Hill entered the witness protection program.
Hill explains that one part of the program includes signing a contract that basically states "you get caught in one lie, the whole deal was off. But I could confess to anything. I didn't commit any murders, but I was present many times when murder was committed. So when you sign that, you have to change your whole way of thinking. My life was on the line, my family's life was on the line. They had everything I had done, even my terrible record as a kid. So, you have one choice: Be absolutely truthful."
During his debriefing, the FBI would ask Hill all sorts of questions based on the information they had -- phone records, surveillance, airplane receipts.
"They start coming at me with all these records. 'Henry, why were you talking to Jimmy right here? Why did you keep flying to Boston?' Compared to the other stuff I was doing, I didn't even think it was a crime. What was I doing in Boston? I was shaving points!"
Listening to this was McDonald, Hill's sponsor in the witness protection program.
"Man, when I told him about B.C., Ed McDonald went postal, he went ballistic," says Hill. "He couldn't believe what I was telling him."
McDonald admits they had no clue about the point shaving. "No, we wouldn't have even known about it," says McDonald. "That was totally out of the blue."
Adding to McDonald's reaction was that he was a graduate of Boston College and even played on the freshman basketball team.
Hill's testimony regarding the B.C. point shaving scandal resulted in multiple convictions, including Kuhn, Mazzei and Perla.
That closed the book on one of the biggest scandals sports has ever known. But what about the accusations involving Tim Donaghy and his partners?
When your friends are talking about taking you out ... it's time to rethink the friendship.
Hill thinks Donaghy, if charged and convicted in the purported scheme, will "probably get 10 years and they'll make him go to Gamblers Anonymous. Then they'll suspend the sentence probably. Hey, the guy has a disease, he's a degenerate gambler and he's a fool for what he did. Still, he'll try to cut the right deal and get immunity, if he can, for everything."
But there's still the question of how Donaghy and his partners were supposedly caught.
Hill thinks it's because everyone got greedy. It would make sense not to go overboard and fix too many games and of course never talk. You don't know who's listening.
"Sense isn't part of it, once [organized crime] got their hands on him, they were never going to let him go," says Hill. "They owned him and they were calling the shots, no question. They're too greedy because they're betting money everywhere now: the Internet, Vegas, every bookie they can find, and everyone wanted a piece. It can get out of hand real fast."
According to Hill, everyone is subject to the failings of the human condition -- that's why you'll never see him bet on sports again.
"Maybe I'll make a pinky bet for 10 bucks with a guy if we're watching a game, but that's it," says Hill. "All these people are humans -- they're greedy, they use steroids, maybe they have a coke habit. Who knows? Look at the bike guys in the Tour. It's everywhere. There's too much money involved. And the guys that are helping them? Players, officials, whatever -- they know they're only in the game for a few years and that's if they stay healthy. They all want to put something in the cookie jar. They buy all sorts of stuff with cash only. Cars and art, all that B.S. Hey, art goes up in value. I know. That's my main source of income, my art. You can find it on eBay, by the way."
Hill doesn't think Donaghy is the only one out there who may have fixed professional sports games, just the only one to be accused of it so far.
"I'm pretty sure there are guys all over on the take," says Hill. "They're going to get these guys good, because like always, they're after the Gambinos. And I'll tell you, I wouldn't be surprised to see some players involved."
Of course, like Hill said, this is nothing new.
"Back in the '70s, I had a joint on Queens Boulevard right between Aquaduct and Belmont. Every jockey in town came in and bet there." Other athletes had places as well. "There were athletes and bookies everywhere back then."
Hill would run into a few of them -- they weren't hard to miss. "Joe Namath used to fool around with my girlfriend's roommate back then," says Hill. "I used to see Joe over at the apartment every couple days. Before he left for Super Bowl III, though, he told me to 'bet the f------ farm' on the Jets. I went down there and took the money line. Man, did I clean up."
Hill didn't just run into athletes in his line of work. "I used to have a guy that reffed games in the Garden in the '70s," says Hill. "I don't want to use his name, but he was a degenerate gambler. He'd come to Belmont or Saratoga and tell one of us, 'I want $4,000 on the seven horse' or whatever. And we'd send someone in front of him to make his bet. That guy would leave the tickets on the table and the ref comes up and bets a couple bucks on something else, then, when he walks away, he palms the ticket for the $4K bet. I mean, what the hell is a ref doing betting $4,000 on a race?"
As Hill learned, it all comes to an end. Money, friends, easy living it all disappears.
"My father was strict as they come," says Hill. "He realized who I was involved with when I was a kid and he would say 'Stay away from those bums across the street.' Well, I didn't listen. As my mom used to say, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, I got blinded by that life. I thought it was the good life. Good living, Cadillacs and diamond rings. In reality, it's just jails, institutions or death."
Which could be what Mr. Donaghy has to look forward to the rest of his life.
Michael Philbrick is an editor for Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
TIM DONAGHY SCANDAL
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pled guilty to federal felony conspiracy charges alleging that he passed along inside information on NBA games.
Donaghy also alleges that referees helped alter the outcomes of games during the '02 and '05 postseasons.
He was sentenced to 15 months in prison in July.
News• Phoenix prosecutor wants federal files
• Donaghy's father says NBA must share the blame
• NBA's disclosure of own probe of officials on hold
• Adviser: Donaghy 'couldn't stop' gambling
• Two ex-classmates of Donaghy get prison time
• Report: Donaghy made calls to fellow ref
• NY prosecutors: Ref 'central' to NBA bet scandal
• NBA's restitution case vs. Donaghy questioned
• Donaghy lawyer: NBA trying to vilify ex-ref
• NBA ups Donaghy restitution figure to $1.4M
• Referee from alleged fixed game to work Game 5
• Ex-referee denies improper officiating claim
• Kings lament Donaghy's claims from 2002
• Report: Federal agents ask ex-ref about Bavetta
• NBA ref responds to Donaghy's 2002 claim
• 2002 playoff game at heart of allegations
• Stern allows some forms of gambling among refs
• NBA refutes report of refs disciplined
• Ex-ref Donaghy forfeits cash as part of plea deal
• Stern defends refs, vows to wait before punishing
• Ex-prosecutor counseled refs during FBI probe
• Attorney to lead review of NBA refs
• Report: Donaghy to talk about other refs
• Donaghy could face state charges
• Donaghy pleads guilty to felony charges | Docs
• Donaghy to plead guilty on betting charges
• Lawyer: Donaghy classmate expects indictment
• Congressman requests discussion with Stern
• Stern: Donaghy only referee believed to have bet
• Transcript of Stern's news conference
• Police called to Donaghy's home
• Report: Feds believe ref will cooperate
• Reports: NBA referee bet on games
• Mayor: Scandal won't hurt Vegas' NBA dream
Stats• Donaghy's 2006-'07 game log
• Donaghy's 2005-'06 game log
Analysis• Munson: What happens on judgment day?
• Munson: Prison or no prison for Donaghy?
• Neumann: Nader feels vindicated
• Hill: NBA not helping their own case
• Stein: NBA has no quick fix for fixing charges
• Smith: Season shaken by Donaghy nightmare
• Munson: Donaghy's claims troubling for NBA
• Adande: Shine brighter spotlight on refs
• Sheridan: What next, Commissioner Stern?
• Munson: Q&A about Tim Donaghy and the law
• Sheridan: 10 Q&A on the scandal
• Sheridan: Even Stern uncertain about latest crisis
• Stein: Donaghy questions and answers
• Drehs: Expert finds funny numbers
• Broussard: Refs say it's isolated incident
• Katz: College officials fear lasting backlash
• Jackson: Sad, not shocked
• Drehs: Q&A with gambling expert
• Sheridan: Three big questions
• Simmons: One man out, one league in trouble
• Stein: Players react
• Sheridan: Team USA players react
• Stein: Official nightmare for Stern
• Sheridan: The Donaghy file
• Adande: NBA's image takes another hit
• Jones: More bad news for the NBA
• TrueHoop: Two unproven beliefs remain so
• TrueHoop: Here's an early NBA fixer
TrueHoop• Betting expert: There's more to this story
• Observations on the Donaghy documents
• No specific mention of game-fixing
• Donaghy treated for gambling addiction
• Reaction to Donaghy's guilty pleas
• Donaghy details from the Justice Department
• Donaghy surrenders; what it all means
SportsNation• Vote: Your reaction
More• NHL: Frei: Keeping eyes open
• Soccer: European scandal awaits resolution