Donaghy under investigation for betting on NBA games

Updated: July 20, 2007, 11:05 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- The FBI is investigating allegations that veteran NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on basketball games over the past two seasons, including ones in which he officiated.

Defense attorney John Lauro confirmed Donaghy is under investigation but refused to comment on the allegations or the case.

According to a law enforcement official, authorities are examining whether the referee made calls to affect the point spread in games on which he or associates had wagered.

The law enforcement official, who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday on the condition of anonymity, said the referee was aware of the investigation and had made arrangements to surrender as early as next week to face charges.

Closer look: Tim Donaghy

Age: 40
NBA experience: Referee in 772 regular-season games in 13 seasons
2005-06 season: 63 games; team officiated most often -- Trail Blazers (7 games)
2006-07 season: 68 games; team officiated most often -- Heat and 76ers (8 games)
High school: Cardinal O'Hara (Springfield, Pa.; one of four NBA refs to attend O'Hara)
College: Villanova, 1989
Of note: In his first dozen seasons as an NBA referee, worked 704 regular-season games and 15 playoffs ... Also has seven years of CBA officiating experience ... Played varsity baseball at Villanova ... Participated in the NBA Read to Achieve program.

-- Sources: NBA officials media guide and the Elias Sports Bureau

A woman came to the door of the Bradenton, Fla. home where Donaghy lives and shouted through the door: "We have no comment."

The law enforcement official said the bets involved thousands of dollars and were made on games during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.

Donaghy is perhaps best-known previously as one of the referees in the 2004 game at Detroit that ended with Indiana Pacers players fighting with Pistons fans, among the biggest stains on the league's image in its history.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Donaghy officiated 68 games in the 2005-06 season and 63 games in 2006-07. He also worked 20 playoff games, including five last season -- Pistons-Magic on April 23; Warriors-Mavs on April 27; Suns-Lakers on April 29; Nets-Raptors on May 4; and Spurs-Suns on May 12.

In a statement issued late Friday afternoon, commissioner David Stern said the league will help the government in any way it can.

"We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again," Stern said. "We will have more to say at a press conference that will be scheduled for next week."

The FBI probe, which began recently, also involves allegations that the referee had connections to organized crime associates. Other arrests are expected, the official said.

The referee had a gambling problem, according to the official, and was approached by low-level mob associates through an acquaintance.

Those studying Donaghy's games might have noticed some trends.

When the home team was favored by 0-4 points, it went 5-12 in games officiated by Donaghy this season, according to Covers.com, a Web site that tracks referee trends. Home underdogs were 1-7 when the spread was 5-9.5 points.

Donaghy was part of a crew working the Heat-Knicks game in New York in February when the Knicks shot 39 free throws to the Heat's eight, technical fouls were called on Heat coach Pat Riley and assistant Ron Rothstein, and the Knicks won by six. New York was favored by 4.

NBA players in Las Vegas for USA Basketball minicamp were surprised and disappointed to learn of the accusations.

"As a competitor, as hard as I play, it is disappointing, definitely," LeBron James said.

Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said he was surprised to learn of Donaghy's situation.

"I think everybody had the same kind of reaction whether you played in the league or just a regular citizen," Billups said.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, known for his vocal criticism and questioning of NBA officials, expressed his thoughts on Donaghy's situation on his blog.

"As bad as the allegations facing the NBA today are, its also an opportunity to face every allegation that has ever been directed towards the NBA and its officials and preempt them from ever occurring in the future," Cuban wrote in a message posted Friday evening. "Calamity can be a catalyst for significant change.

"The NBA took a hit today. Behind that hit is a catalyst and opportunity for significant change that could make the NBA stronger than it ever has been. I have complete confidence that David Stern and [NBA Deputy Commissioner/COO] Adam Silver will do just that and the NBA and our officiating will be all the stronger for it."

The investigation first was reported Friday by the New York Post.

"I'm shocked, terribly shocked," said Gary Benson, an NBA official for 17 years who retired two years ago because of knee problems. "Those are people that you work with and that you literally -- you spend more time with those people than you do with your family."

Benson said he didn't work with Donaghy much.

"You have a lot of acquaintances and very few friends. ... I probably worked a handful of games with him overall, just a handful."

No Love Of The Game

*Recent match-fixing involving game or match officials:

Outside of the U.S.
Year Sport Country Who's involved
1984 Horse racing Australia John Gillespie
1997-2000 Soccer Israel Yochanan Chibotero
2004 Soccer South Africa 33 total including 19 refs
2004 Soccer Czech Republic 8 refs
2004 Soccer Vietnam Luong Trung Viet, 6 others
2004 Soccer Germany Robert Hoyzer, Dominik Marks
2004-2005 Soccer Italy 9 officials including 7 refs
2005 Soccer Brazil Edilson Pereira de Carvalho, Paulo José Danelon
*Years that match-fixing occurred
Donaghy's neighbors in Bradenton also knew little about the man who has grabbed the attention of the NBA and FBI.

Bob Girard, who lives near Donaghy in a gated community along a golf course, said he only noticed one thing out of the ordinary about his neighbor.

"His house just went up for sale," said Girard, who recalled Donaghy moving into the neighborhood less than a year ago.

When Girard saw the news of the NBA betting scandal on TV, he wondered whether it might involve his neighbor, the NBA referee with daughters who sometimes sold lemonade in front of their house for five cents a cup.

"They've got a nice family," Girard said. "They seem to be a pretty normal family to me."

Next-door neighbor Earle Swan said he had not spoken more than four words to Donaghy since he moved in.

Nevada gambling regulators were not involved in an investigation and had no information about the allegations, said Jerry Markling, enforcement chief for the state Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board.

Markling, in Las Vegas, said he learned of the probe from news accounts.

"The allegations were new to us," said Mark Clayton, a control board member. "However, we will continue to monitor them to ascertain whether there is any connection to Nevada's licensed sports books."

Veteran oddsmaker John Avello, at the Wynn resort on the Las Vegas Strip, said that without specific information it would be difficult to identify wagering irregularities over the last two seasons.

"At this point, it's too early to know if any games were affected," Avello said, adding that no regulators or investigators had contacted him about the case.

Jay Kornegay, executive director of the sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton, said he had never seen any unusual activity in NBA betting, and was surprised not to have heard about an investigation until Friday.

"Whispers would have happened on the street, and we would have heard something," Kornegay said. "Any type of suspicious or unusual movements, you usually hear in the industry. We're so regulated and policed, any kind of suspicion would be discussed.

"We haven't seen anything like that in the NBA that I can remember," he said, "and we haven't been contacted by anybody."

No referee, umpire, linesmen or other in-game official has ever been arrested or indicted for game- or match-fixing in the history of the four major sports.

Kornegay said legal sports betting in Nevada represents a fraction of sports betting worldwide, with 98.5 percent of all action taken outside the state. Clayton cited a 2005 estimate by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission that found $380 billion is wagered on illegal sports betting, compared with $2.25 billion in legal sports betting in Nevada.

Gambling long has been a problem in sports, and leagues have made a point of educating players of the potential pitfalls. The NBA, for example, discusses gambling at rookie orientation, even bringing in former mobster Michael Franceze to speak.

NBA commissioner David Stern had long objected to putting a team in Las Vegas because it permits betting on basketball, though earlier this year allowed Mayor Oscar Goodman to submit a proposal to owners on how the city would handle wagering on a team if it moved there.

Goodman argues that legalized gambling, monitored by the Nevada Gaming Commission, prevents these types of suspicious activities.

"We're the only regulatory agency in the world that really looks at unusual activity as far as the movement of the line and that type of conduct," he said. "I think it's a good thing that Las Vegas has the type of regulation that makes sure that bad things don't happen."

Donaghy had a run-in with then-Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace at the Rose Garden four years ago.

Wallace was suspended seven games for threatening Donaghy on the loading dock outside the arena in January 2003. Wallace was apparently upset that Donaghy had called a technical foul on him during a game against Memphis that night.

It was the longest NBA suspension ever levied for something that didn't involve drugs or physical contact. Wallace forfeited an estimated $1.6 million in salary.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.