Attorney says IRS, U.S. Attorney's office launch investigation

Updated: June 3, 2008, 7:44 PM ET
By Kelly Naqi | ESPN.com

Special agents for the FBI and IRS and members of U.S. Attorney's office have launched a joint investigation into "possible income tax evasion and fraud arising from the misuse of charitable organization funds," according to an attorney retained by Louis Johnson, a member of former USC guard O.J. Mayo's inner circle until three months ago.

Anthony Salerno, Johnson's Los Angeles-based attorney, said the scope of the various agencies' investigation is still unclear.

Johnson retained Salerno shortly after "Outside the Lines" reported on May 11 that Mayo -- a projected lottery pick in the June 26 NBA draft -- received thousands of dollars in cash, clothing and other benefits while he was playing in high school and for USC this past season, possibly in violation of NCAA rules.

The NCAA, Pac-10 and the National Basketball Players Association are investigating the allegations made by Johnson.

When asked who the agencies intended to interview for their investigation, Salerno said "the parties previously identified by ESPN in its reporting and also additional parties that haven't been disclosed, but I don't feel comfortable revealing [their names] at the moment out of respect for the confidentiality of the investigation."

Said Lourdes Arocho, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles FBI field office: "We don't confirm or deny investigations." Spokespersons for the IRS and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Central District of California also declined to comment.

Salerno would not comment as to when a meeting between his client and the various agencies will take place. When reached by telephone and asked about the investigation, Johnson declined to comment.

"I would expect the authorities to investigate the matter very thoroughly," Salerno said, "including issuing subpoenas for testimony and documents."

Johnson told ESPN that Mayo accepted close to $30,000 in cash and gifts, before he attended USC, from his advisor, Rodney Guillory, a 43-year-old former Southern California high school basketball tournament promoter. Johnson alleged that BDA Sports Management -- a sports agency based in California -- gave Guillory "anywhere between $200,000-$250,000 in cash and other benefits" to maintain his close relationship with Mayo while Mayo was in high school, with the expectation that the player would sign with BDA when he turned pro. On April 17, Mayo announced he was entering the NBA draft and had signed Calvin Andrews, BDA's senior vice president, to represent him. Andrews and Bill Duffy, BDA's chairman and CEO, were unavailable for comment Tuesday. Mayo and BDA have since parted ways in the wake of ESPN's original report.

In the summer of 2007, Guillory obtained another means of providing benefits to Mayo, according to Johnson. He said Tony Hicks, a convicted felon (who also uses the alias "Amonra Elohim," according to federal court records), is a longtime friend of Guillory's. Since 2000, according to California Secretary of State records, Hicks (or Elohim) has been the registered CEO of a nonprofit, "The National Organization of Sickle Cell Prevention and Awareness Foundation."

Johnson said Hicks (or Elohim) had an American Express card in the charity's name, and Hicks added Guillory to the account and provided him a card to use last summer. Johnson said Guillory used that card to purchase, among other things, a hotel room in Hermosa Beach for Mayo and a girlfriend to stay in, as well as thousands of dollars of clothing for Mayo at a California clothing store called Men's Land, a 42-inch flat-screen television for Mayo's dorm room and meals at various restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Johnson provided "Outside the Lines" with receipts from the purchases.

ESPN approached Hicks in April and asked him why the foundation gave Guillory an American Express card. "That's personal information," Hicks responded. When asked why Hicks let Guillory use the card to spend thousands of dollars on Mayo, Hicks replied, "No comment."

Last Friday, ESPN learned that the California Attorney General's office is investigating possible charitable trust violations associated with the use of the organization's credit card, according to Danny Kim, a special agent with the bureau of investigations for the California Department of Justice.

Mayo has repeatedly denied that he accepted any benefits from Guillory. Guillory has declined ESPN's repeated requests for an interview and could not be reached on his cell phone.

ESPN producer Justine Gubar contributed to this report.

Kelly Naqi joined ESPN in September 1987, and is currently one of two full-time reporters assigned to the Emmy award-winning series Outside the Lines. Kelly also contributes to ESPNEWS and other ESPN news-gathering programs, including SportsCenter, NFL Tonight and Baseball Tonight. She is a native of Rumford, R.I., and graduated from Boston College with a bachelor of arts in philosophy.