OTL probe: Mayo received money, perks from agent reps
In August 2007, a few days before the fall semester began at the University of Southern California, freshman basketball guard O.J. Mayo decided he needed some new clothes for school. His friends, Louis Johnson and Rodney Guillory, picked him up in Guillory's black Infiniti SUV and soon they were at a mall in Carson, Calif., picking out thousands of dollars of clothing.
In the college basketball world, Guillory and Johnson are what's known as "runners" -- middlemen who develop relationships with high-profile athletes with the goal of delivering them to a sports agent when the players turn pro. Johnson is a former Long Beach sportswriter who had met Mayo more than a year earlier and was just getting started in the world of runners. Guillory was an L.A. event promoter who also played a role in the suspension of a USC basketball player in 2000.
As Mayo held up different clothing combinations for Guillory's approval, Johnson said Mayo had a plan. Over the next year in a city that is home to the stars, he was going to create the Mayo Brand, and then take his total package to the National Basketball Association. Once he turned pro, Mayo would sign with an agent at Bill Duffy Associates Sports Management (BDA), which represents a number of NBA stars, including Steve Nash, Yao Ming and Carmelo Anthony; and the agent would polish that image.
Most NBA experts predict Mayo will be a lottery pick, expected to be among the first 14 selections in the June 26 draft. To go with his extraordinary athletic ability, he has the ingredients that make him a sports marketer's dream: intelligence and charisma.
But on this day in late August, Mayo was missing something: clothes for college.
"He wanted to have the [clothes] that would suitably fit his image," Johnson recalled. "He wanted the Kanye West-preppy look, and a combination that ranged from the Jay-Z smooth look to the stuff that Lil Wayne might wear. He got some shirts, pants, a couple of jackets, shoes. Everything had to correspond with the shoes."
Johnson said Mayo shopped for about an hour that day. When it came time to pay for the purchases, Guillory pulled out an American Express card and charged the bill of $2,300 -- which, the sales clerk said later, included a discount of about 15 percent because of "who [Mayo] was." Johnson provided a copy of the receipt from the purchase to ESPN's "Outside the Lines," which verified the shopping spree by interviewing the clerk who assisted Mayo with his purchases. The clerk remembered Mayo and Guillory making multiple trips to the store, Men's Land in Carson, Calif., during the school year. A clerk at another Men's Land location in Culver City also remembered helping Mayo shop with Guillory, and said he recalled Guillory paying the bill for Mayo's merchandise.
And each time Mayo allowed Guillory and Johnson to provide him with money or other benefits, an NCAA violation may have been committed, according to NCAA rules.
"Outside the Lines" began investigating Mayo's relationship with Guillory in January. At the time, Johnson was still an integral part of Mayo's inner circle, loyal to the athlete and sworn to a code of secrecy within the group. The most prominent member of that group was Guillory.
Johnson said Mayo told him he trusted him like a family member. Johnson said he didn't have a job during this time, but Mayo found ways to reward him. Around Christmas in December, Johnson said Mayo surprised him with a gift of $1,000 in cash for what Mayo termed as "being his guy and being loyal to him." Johnson admitted that he hoped to profit more once the player made it to the NBA.
But Johnson said as he grew closer to Mayo, Guillory tried to put distance between Johnson and the star player. According to Johnson, Guillory's power in the group derived from having the closest and most-trusted relationship with Mayo. In fact, Guillory began this process by slowly wresting Mayo away from his longtime AAU coach, Dwaine Barnes -- a man Mayo called his "grandfather," Johnson and others close to Mayo said.
Barnes and Mayo officially cut ties about two years ago. When reached by telephone, Barnes declined to comment.
"There's no doubt about it that Rodney has more influence over O.J. than anyone else on this planet," Johnson said. "And it's like the most unusual dynamic I've ever seen in a mentor-younger-person-type relationship."
By March, as conference tournaments were heating up in college basketball, Johnson said he stopped hanging around the group. He accused Guillory of creating a strain in his relationship with Mayo by misrepresenting things Johnson said about Mayo, eventually sabotaging their relationship.
It was around this time when Johnson began to speak with "Outside the Lines." According to Johnson, Guillory was the connection between Mayo and BDA Sports. Johnson said BDA provided Guillory with money to help him maintain his relationship with Mayo, and to give Mayo some spending money. In exchange, Mayo would be delivered to BDA Sports when he turned pro.
Among the allegations made by Johnson:
• Over the course of roughly three years prior to the start of Mayo's freshman season at USC, BDA Sports provided Guillory with about $200,000, some of it through an account set up at Citibank. Johnson said Guillory told him details about how the account was set up through an intermediary and how it worked: Each month, Guillory told a BDA official what the anticipated "expenses" would be, and that amount would be put into the account to take care of Guillory and Mayo's needs. Guillory, Johnson said, had a card to make withdrawals from the account. Johnson said he was sometimes with Guillory when he made those withdrawals, and Johnson provided "Outside the Lines" with a receipt from one $200 withdrawal that he said occurred in his presence.
• BDA helped Guillory purchase an Infiniti QX56 that Guillory drives. California registration records show Guillory's vehicle came from a dealership co-owned by former USC and NFL player Ronnie Lott, a longtime friend of Duffy, BDA Sports' chairman and CEO. According to Consumer Guide Automotive, the car was valued at around $50,000 when it was first purchased in 2005.
• Guillory has been giving money to Mayo for years, according to Johnson, who provided Western Union receipts that illustrate how Johnson and Guillory wired hundreds of dollars to friends of Mayo while he was in high school to avoid a paper trail leading to Mayo.
• Hotel receipts and airline itineraries show multiple trips made by Johnson and Guillory. The destinations correspond with where Mayo played in high school and at tournaments around the country.
• Guillory paid for Mayo's cell phone service, which T-Mobile billed to a nonprofit foundation run by Guillory that, according to California state records, is designed to serve "the educational, health, recreational and social needs of youths and elderly citizens residing in inner-city communities." Johnson provided "Outside the Lines" with the service agreement for four separate lines on the account, set up on March 13, 2007. Johnson said the phone lines were for Guillory, Mayo, a Mayo relative and Johnson. T-Mobile sent a bill to Guillory's foundation for $558.56 for the September charges for the four lines. Of that amount, $171.17 was for Mayo's phone service and another $192.33 was for the phone service of Mayo's relative, according to the invoice and Johnson.
• In addition to several shopping sprees at the two Men's Land stores in the Los Angeles area, Johnson said Guillory provided Mayo with a flat-screen television, a hotel room and meals -- items all paid for with a credit card that belongs to another nonprofit organization, The National Organization of Sickle Cell Prevention and Awareness Foundation. The organization has never registered as a charitable trust with the California Attorney General's Office and is unknown in the Los Angeles sickle-cell charitable community.
• Guillory purchased airline tickets for a member of Mayo's family and another Mayo friend to visit Mayo at USC, said Johnson, who provided "Outside the Lines" with a plane itinerary and a receipt for those trips.
While Guillory has been by Mayo's side off the court and often in the stands at USC games, Johnson said he believes USC officials were unaware that Guillory was providing cash and other benefits to the player, although he added that Guillory had regular contact with USC basketball coach Tim Floyd. Johnson recounted a story that he says Guillory told him: The day Mayo's letter of intent arrived at USC, Guillory was sitting in the USC basketball office with members of the coaching staff office as the fax arrived.
It is a misdemeanor in California for sports agents or their representatives to provide cash or gifts to student-athletes. Johnson said Mayo always knew he was ticketed to sign with BDA Sports. At his April 17 news conference to announce that he was making himself available for the NBA draft in June, Mayo named BDA senior vice president Calvin Andrews as his agent. That was a mere formality, Johnson said.
"O.J. knew that Rodney was getting money from BDA not only to take care of Rodney but also to take care of O.J.," Johnson said. "He would say that Calvin was his guy. Calvin Andrews was going to represent O.J. Mayo through the BDA brand, absolutely."
Mayo's statement read, in part: "I am focusing on the process of making my dream come true, which is to play professional basketball. I will not allow these allegations to become a distraction to me and my family. I have been through investigations by the NCAA, the Pac Ten [sic] and USC before I attended school and during the time I have been here. I have not engaged in any wrongdoing. If these claims were true I would suspect they would have been discovered by one of these organizations."
The NCAA and USC have had problems with Guillory in the past. In 2000, Trojans guard Jeff Trepagnier was one of two college players suspended by the NCAA, in part because of benefits Guillory supplied when he was working as a runner for a Las Vegas sports agency. Former Fresno State guard Tito Maddox -- the other player suspended -- told "Outside the Lines" that Guillory provided him with plane tickets, money and other benefits, and that Guillory "finds kids and sends them to agents he's dealing with."
Mayo, in his statement, said his experience with Guillory has been above board.
"Rodney has been a positive influence on me as well as a strong African-American male presence in my life," said Mayo's statement, which was issued through BDA Sports. "Recently, my mother had the opportunity to spend time with Rodney as well, and has shared her appreciation for the way he has always treated me like I was family when I was so far away from home. I have nothing but respect for Rodney."
Johnson, 36, said he got to know Guillory about 10 years ago. At the time, Johnson was working for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, writing a story about Dominguez High School center Tyson Chandler. Guillory had fallen into bankruptcy in the early 1990s but was trying to establish himself on the Southern California high school basketball scene.
During a photo shoot for the newspaper, Johnson said, he allowed Chandler to wear a T-shirt that promoted the apparel company owned by one of Guillory's friends, and Guillory appreciated the gesture. Johnson and Guillory remained acquaintances as Guillory began organizing high school basketball tournaments. Johnson sometimes wrote about Guillory's tournaments for the newspaper as their paths continued to cross.
Johnson said he was covering the 2003 Adidas ABCD basketball camp when Mayo, then 15, and Guillory, then 38, met for the first time. Mayo and Guillory quickly forged a bond, speaking frequently on the telephone while Mayo was winning two state championships more than 2,000 miles away at North College Hill High School in Cincinnati and then another state title in his senior year at Huntington High School in West Virginia.
In an interview with ESPN's "E:60" in November 2007, Mayo gave this account of his early relationship with Guillory: "At that time, everyone was telling me I was the best thing since sliced bread. So when [Guillory] started critiquing my game and trying to make me a better player, I just felt a good vibe about him."
The week before Christmas in 2005, Guillory began to leverage that relationship. He co-sponsored a tournament in Southern California with Reebok that featured Mayo's North College Hill team. Guillory paid the school $16,000, plus all travel expenses, for the chance to showcase Mayo for two games in California, according to the contract between Guillory and the school, which "Outside the Lines" obtained through a public records request.
Johnson added that Guillory and Mayo were supportive of him while his troubles with the law were adjudicated. During that time, he said, their friendship was truly validated at a dinner at the Calabasas home of Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe company executive. There, seated at the table along with Guillory, Mayo told Vaccaro, "Lou is family." Vaccaro didn't respond to an interview request .
"That told me I had just taken it to a new level of intimacy," Johnson said. "I was literally at the lowest point I've ever been in before, and that situation, that 'belonging' at that time for me was the boost I needed to keep me going."
As their friendship blossomed, Mayo's senior year of high school began. Johnson said he and Guillory made at least four cross-country trips to be with Mayo. In the effort to remain close to the player, they stayed for days at a time in hotel rooms or crashed with Mayo's girlfriend's mother in Cincinnati, from where they could make the two-plus-hour drive to Huntington.
"He needed to maintain his relationship with the kid," Johnson said of Guillory. "It was too big of a risk for him not to be close to O.J. when things really particularly heat up. [Mayo] is a senior, he was a McDonald's All-American, he is a superstar. If anything, that was the time to get close and try to strengthen the relationship."
Johnson said Guillory was using some of the money from BDA to take care of their expenses. Johnson quickly took to his new role in Mayo's inner circle, which he said included everything from helping Mayo with homework to "giving Rodney help or advice on different situations that may pop up." When he and Guillory weren't able to be in the same town as Mayo, he said, they kept in contact with Mayo by phone.
Johnson said Guillory detailed BDA's system for providing money to Guillory in exchange for delivering Mayo as a BDA client down the road. Johnson said Guillory called Andrews when he needed money.
"[Guillory] had a credit card that was set up through his Citibank Smith Barney account, and each month there would be X amount of dollars that would be dispensed to this account," Johnson said.
Johnson said Guillory once tallied the cash and property that BDA had provided him, which totaled between $200,000 and $250,000. About $30,000 of that made its way to Mayo and others close to him, he said. That total includes the Infiniti SUV Guillory received as part of his arrangement with BDA, according to Johnson. California registration records show the Infiniti was purchased from Tracy Toyota in Tracy, Calif., near the Bay Area. The dealership is co-owned by former San Francisco 49ers Lott and Keena Turner.
Tracy Toyota doesn't carry the Infiniti brand. Yet California registration records show that Tracy Toyota bought and registered Guillory's vehicle on June 17, 2005. On July 16, 2005, the dealership transferred the title of ownership of the brand-new Infiniti to Guillory. Tracy Toyota is located 336 miles from where Guillory lives in Inglewood. It isn't clear how much is owed on the vehicle, but Toyota Motor Credit Corp. in Georgia has a lien on the vehicle, according to California DMV records.
Lott told "Outside the Lines" that he has only met Mayo once and he didn't know Guillory had obtained a vehicle from his dealership. Turner said he's "known Bill [Duffy] for a number of years," and that the dealership has taken a number of referrals from BDA Sports in the past. But he doesn't remember helping to broker the deal for Guillory's vehicle.
On Friday, Duffy and Andrews provided this statement to ESPN in response to specific questions regarding the agency's relationship with Guillory and the benefits Johnson alleges were provided to Guillory and Mayo through BDA:
"Developing a rapport with Rodney Guillory was a prerequisite for the multiple agencies attempting to recruit O.J. Mayo. There were absolutely no illegalities in our recruitment of O.J. Mayo nor were there any agreements or understandings towards his selection of BDA. O.J. Mayo's decision to choose BDA as his representation firm had absolutely no bearing on anything other than O.J. recognizing our achievements and firmly believing that BDA will provide the guidance for him to reach his goals and attain great success."
Johnson said BDA remained in close contact with Mayo while he was at USC but the agency stopped providing money to Guillory on a monthly basis last summer. "The money ran out with BDA right around the time O.J.'s senior year [in high school] ended," he said.
To fill the void, Johnson said Guillory arranged to get an American Express card registered to The National Organization of Sickle Cell Prevention and Awareness Foundation.
"We are the hub for the sickle-cell community, and we've never heard of them," Brown said.
Guillory, armed with a new line of credit worth thousands of dollars from the American Express card, began to spend on himself and Mayo before the fall semester began at USC, Johnson said. Receipts Johnson provided to "Outside the Lines" show the scope of Guillory's purchases:
• A hotel room in Hermosa Beach, which Johnson said Mayo and a girlfriend used.
• A 42-inch flat-screen TV, which Johnson said was for Mayo's dorm room.
• Meals and thousands of dollars worth of clothing.
Johnson said he was present on all of the shopping expeditions, and "Outside the Lines" has confirmed independently that Guillory and Mayo frequented two of the restaurants.
A Men's Land salesman, who gave his name as Eddie but declined to provide his last name, said, "[Mayo] got lots of stuff." Eddie remembered that O.J. acquired about 30 pairs of sneakers from his store over the course of the school year ("A lot of Jordans"), and said he even had Mayo's cell phone number programmed into his phone so he could call him when new merchandise came in.
Nate Turner, a clerk at the Culver City Men's Land location, said he remembers Guillory paying for Mayo's purchase on at least one occasion. He had Guillory's cell phone number programmed into his phone, but in a way that would remind him who Guillory normally shopped with: "Rodney Mayo."
How did Guillory get access to a sickle cell charity's credit card?
According to Johnson, Guillory sought out a longtime friend: a furniture store employee named Tony Hicks. Hicks also has an alias, federal court records show: "Amonra Elohim."
Since 2000, Hicks or Elohim has been listed as the sickle-cell charity's CEO, according to documents filed with the state of California. Hicks has a criminal record: In 2002, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with a mortgage scheme. In 2005, according to a U.S. District Court document, Hicks violated the terms of his probation because he "fraudulently represented himself as The Red Cross" by setting up a Web site soliciting donations for victims of the 2004 tsunami in Asia in which more than 275,000 people died.
"Outside the Lines" approached Hicks and asked him why the foundation gave Guillory an American Express card. "That's personal information," Hicks responded.
When asked why Hicks let Guillory spend thousands of dollars on Mayo using the card, Hicks replied, "No comment."
At the time of the purchases on the credit card last year, according to Johnson, neither he nor Mayo knew it was affiliated with a charity. Johnson said they only knew that Hicks had provided Guillory access to a card for Mayo's use. Johnson said he remembers Guillory escorting Mayo to a youth football game in which Hicks' son played last fall so Mayo could personally thank Hicks for arranging the credit for Guillory. Johnson said Mayo eventually grew suspicious about the purchases Guillory was making for him.
"He knew that there was something wrong with that situation; he just didn't know what it was," Johnson said. "He knew Rodney didn't have, like, great credit. He asked me what did I know about it."
Johnson said sometime in December, Mayo received an anonymous tip about the credit card and became so concerned that he convened a meeting in Venice Beach to discuss the card with Guillory and Johnson for fear of being seen or heard.
"He wanted to know what was the truth," Johnson said. "He said to Rodney, 'There's a lot going on here. What's real and what's not real? This can't all be made up.' And Rodney said that it was all made up, it was all fabricated, it was all a lie."
Johnson said that Mayo believed Guillory and when Johnson tried to bring up the topic a few days later, Mayo wanted to drop the matter.
"Rodney loves O.J. Let me say that," Johnson said. "And O.J. loves Rodney. But Rodney doesn't always do things that are in the best of O.J.'s interest."
Johnson said there was never any discussion by Mayo or Guillory about whether they, along with Johnson, were possibly violating NCAA rules.
USC declined a request for an interview with Floyd, athletic director Mike Garrett or the school's compliance officer who reviewed Mayo's admission. But the school issued a statement that reads, in part: "The NCAA and the Pac-10 reviewed O.J. Mayo's amateur status before and during his enrollment at USC, and did not identify any amateurism violations. Mayo and USC fully cooperated in these investigations. The University investigated and reported a violation involving Mayo's receipt of tickets to a Denver Nuggets game from his friend Carmelo Anthony. Mayo's eligibility was reinstated after he made a charitable contribution in the amount of the value of the tickets."
As for Johnson, he said part of the reason he stopped hanging around Mayo's circle in March was because he was tired of being complicit in "some really sick things in regards to amateur sports." Still, Johnson doesn't blame Mayo for accepting gifts from Guillory.
"This is way bigger than some 'brand' and money and all of this stuff," Johnson said. "He played within the rules of the game, and this is the game. Runners, agents, shoe companies, other elements -- this is the game. Once you're in the game, you're in the game. There's no turning back."
Reporter Kelly Naqi works in ESPN's enterprise unit. Producer Evan Kanew contributed to this report.
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