Cuomo admits point-shaving role

Updated: April 24, 2009, 1:35 PM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

Adam Cuomo, a former reserve running back at the University of Toledo, has admitted to being a key figure in an alleged point-shaving scheme involving both the men's basketball and football teams at the school, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The release this week of the complaint, originally filed under seal last August, comes as federal authorities move to wrap up a more than two-year investigation of gambling tied to Toledo. Authorities have told ESPN.com that the federal probe is focused on 52-year-old Ghazi [Gary] Manni, the manager of a family-owned grocery in Detroit, as well as suburban Detroit real estate investor Mitchell Karam.

Last summer, Sammy Villegas, a former Toledo basketball player, was charged with fixing games during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, and is scheduled to be sentenced June 18. Previously, former Toledo running back Harvey "Scooter" McDougle was charged on a similar gambling offense, although that charge was later dropped on a procedural matter. Authorities haven't ruled out the possibility that McDougle could be charged again, as well as additional former Toledo athletes.

Authorities allege the point-shaving scheme took place between the fall of 2003 and winter of 2006. None of the university's current student-athletes is thought to be part of the illegal activity.

The latest name to surface is Cuomo, who was a 26-year-old senior during the 2003 football season. He had only six carries for 24 yards that fall, but authorities believe he was integral in assisting gamblers.

During a December 2006 meeting with FBI agents, the criminal complaint says, "Cuomo stated that he was the University of Toledo player who started the point shaving scheme with 'Gary.'" Cuomo is described as having provided the gambler with information about upcoming Toledo games and helping to place bets on the games. The complaint further states that Cuomo admitted bringing "numerous" basketball and football players to Detroit "for the specific purpose of 'Gary' asking them to participate in the point shaving scheme."

Cuomo, who grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but a relative told ESPN.com that he'd recently lost his job at a steel plant there.

"He's a good kid, really good guy," said Nick Cuomo, his cousin.

"[Cuomo] was there my freshman year, but didn't really play that much," McDougle said when reached by ESPN.com on Thursday. "He was a cool dude from Canada."

Federal authorities are hopeful Cuomo will return from Canada. They could issue an indictment within the next month and begin extradition proceedings.

Lawrence Burns, Toledo's vice president of communications, said Thursday that the university was not aware of Cuomo's involvement.

"We have not heard that," Burns said. "At this point, we just want it to be over."

As in the case of Villegas, the basketball player, court filings reveal that federal investigators picked up Cuomo in conversations with "Gary" -- described as a person of Iraqi descent living in Sterling Heights, Mich. In an earlier interview with ESPN.com, Ghazi [Gary] Manni provided a document showing that a U.S. district court judged signed off on five separate wiretaps of his phone from November 2005 through December 2006.

Neil Fink, an attorney who represents Manni, told ESPN.com Thursday that he expects his client to be indicted on gambling charges. As for how damaging the wiretap evidence might be, Fink said, "It depends what the conversation is. Don't believe everything you hear."

According to the criminal complaint, Cuomo was picked up on at least two wiretapped calls, both of which occurred well after he'd finished his football eligibility and were placed from a phone in Canada. The complaint says that during a Dec. 1, 2005, conversation, Cuomo spoke of having recruited a Toledo basketball player to engage in the point-shaving scheme.

In a Dec. 21, 2005, conversation on the morning of Toledo's appearance in the GMAC Bowl that season, Cuomo was caught saying that "he was going to use a senior University of Toledo football player already participating in the point-shaving scheme as an intermediary in an attempt to recruit a senior offensive lineman to help shave points in an upcoming football game by committing penalties during the game." Toledo beat Texas-El Paso 45-13 in the bowl game.

The complaint unsealed this week states that in addition to Cuomo, federal agents have interviewed three other unnamed former Toledo athletes -- two football players and one basketball player -- who admitted they had been involved in the point-shaving scheme with "Gary" and others.

Authorities are perplexed by the great risk athletes apparently took for very minimal reward. In this case, the gambler was overheard offering to pay the lineman $500 to help affect the game, with Cuomo able to negotiate the fee up to $1,000.

The criminal complaint alleges the point-shaving scheme took root in the fall of 2003 when Cuomo met an associate of "Gary's" who operated a cellular telephone store in Toledo. The store operator told FBI agents that Cuomo subsequently introduced him to other Toledo players "who gave him information to use in placing wagers on University of Toledo football and basketball games." The store operator later connected Cuomo with "Gary."

McDougle acknowledged to ESPN.com on Thursday that he was introduced to Manni by Cuomo, though he denied that gambling was part of the conversation. He said the meeting took place at a Detroit restaurant during his freshman year.

"We ended up meeting through [Cuomo]," McDougle said. "He told me he wanted me to meet one of his friends. We just talked and that was it."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.