DENVER -- More than a half-dozen University of Colorado football players appeared Friday before a grand jury investigating the program's sordid recruiting scandal.
The probe is the first indication criminal charges may be filed in a scandal that has already led to sweeping changes in the football program and a scathing review of university leadership. The grand jury has met twice before.
Legal experts have said they think investigators led by the office of Attorney General Ken Salazar are trying to figure out whether university funds were misused. Salazar's office has declined to comment.
Among the eight players appearing Friday were linebacker Chris Hollis, who was suspended in February for taking a recruit to a strip club in Boulder. None would discuss their grand jury testimony.
"Well, we can talk about football," said cornerback Vance Washington of Friendswood, Texas.
Also called in was Bruce Fitzgerald, a police detective in Broomfield -- the site of a hotel often used by football recruits visiting the campus in nearby Boulder. The hotel, the Omni Interlocken, is at the center of allegations against former recruiting aide Nathan Maxcey.
According to a commission that investigated the scandal, three call girls from the Best Variety escort service said Maxcey paid them at least $2,000 in cash over a 45-day period "and arranged sex for other young men" at the hotel.
Former Best Variety manager Pasha Cowan, who has appeared before the grand jury, said Maxcey hired escorts for "very athletic" young men, presumably football players. Maxcey has repeatedly denied the claim, saying any sexual liaisons were for him.
Tyler Polumbus, a linebacker from Englewood who was among the players attending Friday's session, said he never saw Maxcey do anything improper.
"Hopefully, this is the end of it, because you can only dig so long before you cant find anything," he said.
Salazar, at the governor's request, has been investigating whether criminal charges are warranted in the scandal, which includes allegations of sexual assault.
Salazar has decided against filing charges in nine alleged assaults by football players or recruits, citing evidentiary concerns and the reluctance of the women to go forward with the cases. The assault allegations date to at least 1997.
The Board of Regents' commission concluded university officials did not condone any misconduct but repeatedly failed to properly oversee the athletics department. The commission, which lacked subpoena power, urged the attorney general to look into the circumstances surrounding Maxcey.
Still pending in the scandal are federal lawsuits filed by three women who say they were raped by recruits or players at or just after an off-campus party in December 2001. Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan's allegation that the school uses sex and alcohol to entice recruits -- made in a deposition for one of the suits -- helped spark the scandal earlier this year.
The lawsuits accuse Colorado of failing to protect the women under federal Title IX law, which guarantees equal access to an education. They seek unspecified damages.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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