Federal agents asking questions about Bavetta

Updated: June 13, 2008, 12:39 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Two former NBA referees told ESPN on Thursday that federal investigators had questioned them about referee Dick Bavetta while conducting their probe into Tim Donaghy.

Former referee Hue Hollins said Thursday on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" that federal investigators "questioned me about Dick Bavetta more than they did about Tim Donaghy."

"They wanted to know what I knew about Dick Bavetta in terms of holding calls, making sure this team wins, that team wins. I said 'I never heard of that, and I didn't know anything about it,'" Hollins said. "When they called to interview me, I was again caught by surprise they asked so many questions about Bavetta. I didn't know where they were going with that."

Another ex-referee, who spoke to ESPN.com on the condition he not be identified, said federal investigators asked him about specific games Bavetta refereed and whether he had noticed anything peculiar about Bavetta's actions.

NBA commissioner David Stern called a news conference prior to Game 4 of the NBA Finals and said he had no concerns about Bavetta.

Stern also said the league would reinterview all its officials, all of whom were asked in interviews with independent investigator Lawrence Pedowitz whether they had ever made a call based on anything other than the merits of the call itself.

The Pedowitz report has been in the league's hands for several weeks, but the NBA has said it will not release the report until Donaghy is sentenced and that investigation is closed.

Stern answered "I don't know" when asked how much Bavetta-related questioning had taken place during interviews between referees and federal investigators, although he acknowledged that the NBA was aware that questions were being asked about Bavetta.

What They're Saying

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"We had some idea about what was happening because we made available, and they went out and sought, interviews with many officials, past and present, who informed us of those interviews," Stern said. "So we know that something had been said by Mr. Donaghy, and the FBI was investigating a variety of claims. That's what happens -- someone comes in, they made a variety of allegations as they seek to demonstrate their cooperativeness with respect to reducing a sentence, and then you identify people. But guilt by association is not something that we engage in."

Two nights earlier, Stern was asked by ESPN.com whether he was aware of any ongoing investigations of other referees. His response: "I'm going to repeat the question because I want everyone to hear it: Are we aware of any open investigations by the government? Only possibly of Mr. Donaghy, nothing else."

The scandal has attracted the attention of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which plans to draft a letter of inquiry to the NBA in the next week, Newsday reported, citing an anonymous source familiar with the situation. The committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., will then decide whether to proceed with congressional hearings.

Bavetta officiated Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Boston, and it is unknown whether he is scheduled to work any more games this postseason. The NBA does not release its referee assignments until the morning of a game day.

Former referee Mike Mathis told ESPN.com he had been questioned by the FBI but was not asked about Bavetta. Also, ex-referee Blaine Reichelt said he had not been contacted by any law enforcement authorities, and ex-referee Ted Bernhardt said he had been questioned only by NBA security officials.

The Game In Question

Shaquille O'Neal scored 41 points and pulled down 17 rebounds as the Lakers forced a Game 7 in the 2002 Western Conference finals. Recap

A request by ESPN.com to interview Bavetta was denied Thursday by the NBA, as was a request to view the officials' postgame report from Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals -- a game Donaghy has alleged was refereed unfairly to ensure the Lakers and Kings would meet in a Game 7.

Bavetta, Bob Delaney and Bernhardt were the three referees who worked that game, and Delaney told ESPN on Wednesday he has never been contacted by NBA or federal investigators concerning Donaghy's allegation that two referees intended to assure that series went seven games.

Bernhardt, reached Thursday by ESPN.com, recalled the aftermath of Game 6 in 2002.

"I only talked to [former supervisor of officials] Ed Rush after the game, and I said I wasn't happy about it. He asked why, and I said I didn't feel we were very good.

"But I stand by my calls in that game. I was right on," Bernhardt said. "I believe in Dick Bavetta, and I believe in Bob Delaney, and I believe in the NBA for that matter. I'm also afraid that if Tim Donaghy is proven wrong, he's going to end up having to serve more time. I feel sorry for his kids. It's just a terrible situation all around."

Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof said they have been have been inundated with calls and e-mails from fans who are upset.

Documents

• Tim Donaghy, right, claims that other referees were involved in altering NBA games. Read PDF

• The Donaghy legal team addresses the NBA's claim that he must pay $1 million restitution. Read PDF

"We believe we have the best fans in the NBA and are so grateful for their continued passion and support," the Maloofs said in a statement. "We certainly didn't like all the calls in that Game 6 and were extremely disappointed with the outcome. However, we have been associated with the NBA for many years and feel in no way that the league was conspiring for the Kings to lose."

During a lengthy interview with ESPN.com early in 2006, Bavetta bristled at a question that cited detractors' criticisms of him, including his officiating in Game 6 of the Lakers-Kings series, and he declined to answer on the record.

At his news conference Thursday, Stern made his strongest statements ever regarding the 2002 Kings-Lakers game, saying: "You can watch it, you can look at it again, and you could see what we call the correct, incorrect and noncall incorrect. … My guess is it won't be pretty, but it won't be dishonest and it won't be illegal. Of that I assure you."

Hollins told The New York Times, in a story published Thursday, that investigators asked if he ever noticed Bavetta "was making sure that the home team would win, and I told them I had no idea because I didn't work with him a lot."

Lemell McMorris, president of the referees' union, declined comment, and FBI spokesman Steve Kodak said the U.S. Justice Department never comments on any kind of ongoing investigation.

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com NBA Insider.

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