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Donaghy pleads guilty, could face up to 25 years in prison

8/15/2007 - NBA

NEW YORK -- Tim Donaghy started making NBA bets four years
ago, and he didn't hesitate to wager on games he worked.

Speaking in code during telephone calls, he tipped off
high-stakes gamblers with inside information and recommended which
teams to bet on. When his picks hit, he was paid $5,000.

The stunning allegations emerged Wednesday as the disgraced
former NBA referee pleaded guilty to two felony charges in a
scandal that rocked the league and tarnished the integrity of the
sport.

"By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique
position to predict the outcome of NBA games," Donaghy, standing
ramrod-straight with his hands clasped in front of him, told the
judge in a Brooklyn courtroom.

Donaghy, who was released on $250,000 bond, faces a maximum of
25 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 9 for conspiracy to
engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through
interstate commerce. He also must pay a $500,000 fine and at least
$30,000 in restitution to the government.

Commissioner David Stern said the NBA would "continue with our
ongoing and thorough review of the league's officiating program to
ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place
to protect the integrity of our game."

Defense attorney John Lauro told The Associated Press that
Donaghy was "relieved this part of the proceeding is over and we
look forward to completely resolving this matter in the coming
months."

"Tim deeply regrets his involvement in this matter and
especially the pain it has caused his family, friends and
co-workers," Lauro said.

The plea had been widely expected in recent weeks, but court
documents released Wednesday revealed new details about the depth
of the scandal.

Court papers say the 40-year-old Donaghy began placing bets on
NBA games in 2003. Starting last December, he began giving gambling
associates sensitive information, including which crews would
officiate games and how the various officials and players
interacted.

His actions "compromised his objectivity as a referee because
of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games,"
the government said.

It was highly lucrative for Donaghy. While in Toronto, Phoenix
and Washington, D.C., to referee games earlier this year, Donaghy
received thousands of dollars in cash payoffs from the gamblers,
authorities said.

They did not spell out specific games that Donaghy officiated
and placed bets on, nor would they say if he made calls during the
game to help a team cover the spread.

In one exchange, according to court papers, Donaghy provided a
tip about an NBA game on Dec. 13, 2006. That same day, he worked a
76ers game in Philadelphia against the Boston Celtics.

The next day, Donaghy met with the gamblers in Pennsylvania and
received a cash payment, authorities say. A person close to the
investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case
is ongoing, said the payment was for a successful tip on the
76ers-Celtics game.

The point spread moved two points before the game went off the
board -- a fairly significant swing -- with Boston going from a
1½-point favorite to a 3½-point choice. Boston won by 20.

The two alleged co-conspirators, identified by prosecutors as
James Battista, a professional gambler with the nicknames "Baba"
and "Sheep," and Thomas Martino, also appeared in court
Wednesday. They were ordered released on $250,000 bond after their
arraignment on charges of conspiracy to defraud the NBA.

Battista's lawyer, Jack McMahon, said a grand jury is expected
to hear the case and, if indicted, his client intends to plead
innocent.

"Mr. Donaghy walked away with a nice situation for himself. He
is the linchpin and he seems to have worked his way into a nice
situation," McMahon said. "I don't know if that is fair."

The betting scheme was uncovered during an investigation into
the Gambino crime family in Brooklyn. None of the defendants in
this case was charged with organized crime affiliation.

"He has no more association with an organized crime family than
me, and I'm not associated with any organized crime," said
McMahon, Battista's lawyer.

Stern said last month that the FBI first contacted the NBA on
June 20 to talk about a referee alleged to be gambling on games,
and Donaghy resigned July 9 after 13 years as an official. Stern
said he would have fired him sooner but was told it might affect
the investigation.

Stern blamed a "rogue, isolated criminal" for a scandal that
threatened the credibility of every referee. But players are trying
not to get too caught up in it.

"Honestly, I don't think anybody's thinking about it. Us
players, we haven't discussed it," superstar Kobe Bryant said.
"It's not something that's on the radar for us. We know that the
commissioner and the league and whoever else is handling the
situation, they're going to take care of it, so we don't have much
to worry about."

Donaghy, who earned $260,000 last year, was rated in the top
tier of officials, and there was nothing suspicious about the
frequency of his foul calls, Stern said. He was assigned to work in
the second round of the playoffs, with his last NBA game coming
during the Phoenix-San Antonio Western Conference semifinal.

The NBA places huge restrictions on NBA referees when it comes
to gambling. They are not allowed to enter a casino, for example.

"An unfortunate situation has taken place," New Jersey Nets
guard Jason Kidd said. "But I think the NBA will definitely learn
from this but move forward. Win or lose, the players control
that."

Donaghy turned over his passport and must seek permission to
travel anywhere other than Pennsylvania, Florida or New York.

In court, Donaghy said he is receiving psychiatric treatment for
his gambling problem and is taking antidepressant and anxiety
medication.