Charge dropped against athlete for 'procedural' reasons

Updated: April 19, 2007, 10:48 AM ET
By George J. Tanber | Special to ESPN.com

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Federal authorities dropped their points-shaving charge Wednesday against University of Toledo running back Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr., citing procedural reasons.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court by assistant U.S. District Attorney David Morris, authorities said they need more time to continue their investigation.

"[We need to] investigate the full extent of the offense in question and identify all other individuals who should be held criminally responsible for the offenses," the motion said.

McDougle has declined comment on the case. James Burdick, McDougle's Detroit-area attorney, said he was pleased with the news but unsure what it means.

"I don't know if it's temporary or not," Burdick said Wednesday. "It's not enormously significant. It can mean a lot of different things. We'll have to wait and see. There's no way of knowing."

When a complaint is filed, the government has 30 days in which to move the case forward. A preliminary hearing had been scheduled for Friday. U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Gina Balaya said federal prosecutors weren't ready for the hearing so they asked for the dismissal.

"This just allows the government additional time to investigate the case," she said. "It's still ongoing. This happens routinely. It's not unusual."

Balaya said McDougle and perhaps others likely would be indicted later, but would not speculate on when.

The U.S. Attorney's Office had accused McDougle, a 22-year-old senior running back for Toledo, of taking bribes from a gambler in Sterling Heights, Mich., to alter the result of football games and recruiting teammates and members of Toledo's basketball team to do likewise.

McDougle was arraigned March 30 in federal court in Detroit and released on $10,000 bond. He was charged with conspiring to bribe to affect the outcome of a sporting event, and faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

McDougle was suspended from the team after the initial criminal complaint was filed. The move by federal investigators Wednesday did not alter the university's position.

"His status is unchanged until we have firm details of where things stand," Toledo spokesman Tobin Klinger said.

McDougle remains enrolled at Toledo and is attending classes, university officials said.

According to an FBI affidavit filed in support of its criminal complaint, Toledo athletes allegedly began conspiring with a gambler identified only as "Gary" sometime in fall 2003 and continued the activity through early 2006. "Gary" has since been identified as Ghazi Manni, a 50-year-old Detroit businessman.

According to the affidavit, the FBI stumbled onto the case while conducting electronic surveillance of Gary's phone, beginning in November 2005. Conversations revealed that Gary pegged McDougle to recruit Toledo football and basketball players to influence the final scores of games on which Gary and others placed wagers. In return, according to the affidavit, Gary offered McDougle and other players cash, merchandise and groceries. Additionally, Gary placed wagers with his money on behalf of players and gave them the winnings if they won.

Other than McDougle, no other Toledo athletes were named in the affidavit or charged in the complaint, nor did FBI investigators identify any football or basketball games they believe were altered by athletes connected to McDougle and Gary.

The federal government's criminal complaint against McDougle stunned the Toledo campus and prompted the unversity to shut down access to other football players and bar reporters from spring football practices, which ended Monday.

Burdick said he believes authorities could be using McDougle to implicate other players or gamblers.

"I think that probably that's their strategy," he said. "I know there are a lot bigger fish to fry even if what they say is partly true."

George J. Tanber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at george.tanber@iscg.net.

George J. Tanber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage.