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Outside the Lines:
Anatomy of a Fix

 


Here's the transcript from Show 105 of weekly Outside The Lines - Anatomy of a Fix

SUN., MARCH 31, 2002
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Mike Greenberg/Jeremy Schaap, ESPN.
Guests -Stevin "Headache" Smith, former captain, Arizona State basketball team; Bill Saum, NCAA Director of Agent Gambling and Amateurism Activities; Sonny Vacaro, Director of Sports for Adidas; David Porter, author, "Fixed - How Good Fellows Bought Boston College Basketball"

ANNOUNCER - March 31, 2002.

BOB LEY, ESPN - On a weekend that celebrates college basketball we consider the worst sin in the sport, fixing a game, shaving points. It may be more common than you think. This star player ...

STEVIN SMITH - He approached me with a deal and I agreed on it. It's as simple as that.

LEY - Met this campus bookie ...

BENNY SILMAN - He's like what? You want me to fix games?

LEY - They did. It was astonishingly easy to do so and for a while they were rich.

SMITH - I've never seen that kind of money. I got greedy and it cost me.

LEY - They landed in prison.

SILMAN - I mean I'm branded for the rest of my life whether I like it or not.

LEY - Could others still be scheming today?

SMITH - Do I think it's going on? Yes, it's going on.

LEY - Today on "Outside the Lines," we consider that likelihood and meet the player and the bookie and see the anatomy of a fix.

ANNOUNCER VOICEOVER - "Outside the Line" is presented by State Farm Insurance.

LEY - No matter what transgressions athletes have been charged with over the years, everything from drugs to assault, one allegation within the world of sports is the most toxic, fixing, shaving points. It's been a problem for college basketball for 50 years and it's not some quaint historical footnote but a clear and present danger.

This morning you will see the first hand account of a point shaving scandal at Arizona State, the street wise New York kid and the NBA bound point guard but this could easily be Boston College in the late 1970s, Tulane in the 1980s or Northwestern in the 90s and those are just the cases we know about. The shock is evaporated and with the growth of gambling in the United States the potential for shaving points has grown.

As you watch this report by Mike Greenberg bear in mind two things, how incredibly easy it was to shave points and what is preventing this from happening again.

This is Benny Silman, a 30-year-old New Yorker who has come home to put his life back together after an eight-year long odyssey that threatened to tear it apart.

MIKE GREENBERG, ESPN - You wound up the central figure in the biggest point shaving scandal in the history of the United States.

BENNY SILMAN - Exactly.

GREENBERG - How easily did that happen?

SILMAN - It is very easy. Something like this is very easy and that's the scary thing about it and that's what's got to make you wonder if it's going on right now as we speak.

GREENBERG - This is Tempe, home to Arizona State University and about as far from New York City as a New Yorker could ever be.

SILMAN - It's real hard to pay attention to school. I mean you've got beautiful women. You've got palm trees. You've got pools everywhere you look.

GREENBERG - When Benny Silman arrived in 1989, he was surrounded by all sorts of temptation.

SILMAN - See Las Vegas is a $70 flight and 45 minutes so I'm 18 years old. I'm at school and me and my friends get on a plane to go out to Las Vegas.

GREENBERG - Soon enough Silman discovered he didn't have to fly to scratch his itch for gambling. He found a bookie on campus and began placing bets on football games.

SILMAN - And then it escalates. Well football season's over. Now it's basketball and basketball's an everyday thing and before you know it you're in -- it's just an everyday thing. It's part of your life.

GREENBERG - Silman found the lifestyle appealing. Before long he was no longer the guy placing the bets. He was the guy taking them with a pool of about 30 or so friends who became clients or as he calls them "players."

SILMAN - And it just seemed like week after week after week all the kids were losing so by the end of the year and I was making some decent money, you know, 500 a week. For a kid in college, cash was great.

I could sit at the bar and buy drinks for my friends and you know have a good time, be a little big shot. Through the course of the season our business started escalating and our 30 players became 50 players and that's when I got introduced to Headache Smith.

STEVIN SMITH - My name is Stevin Smith, point guard, shooting guard.

ANNOUNCER - Headache Smith for three. Headache, bring out the aspirin. Here we go. We all know he scores in bushels.

GREENBERG - Stevin "Headache" Smith was the captain of the Arizona State basketball team, a pro prospect who finished his career as the school's all time leading scorer. In a first person story in Sports Illustrated Magazine, Smith says he began placing bets with Benny Silman and ran up a debt of $10,000. He says Benny casually told him there was a way to erase the debt. Silman remembers it differently.

SILMAN - One day he comes in and I think I was counting money. I just had a good week and he says to me something of the sort like, "Man how do I get my hands on some of that money?" And it was really weird because I looked at him and we made -- and then he looked at me and it was like we were talking to each other without saying any words and I -- you know the thought was crossing my mind but I couldn't spit it out.

You know it was like and I was looking at him and he was looking at me and then finally he says, "What? I don't want to have to throw any games." And it was like you know we talked to each other without saying any words and that's just how it happened and we looked at each other and it was on.

ANNOUNCER - And Oregon State again pulls within five.

GREENBERG - It was point shaving. Smith made it clear he would not make his team lose but he wouldn't have to. They just had to win by less than the point spread. There was still the problem, however, when gambling one must have money in order to make money and Silman didn't have much but he knew one person who did, a gambler from Chicago who placed bets with him over the phone, bigger bets than any of his local players so Silman did what he had to, to make a score. He let someone else in on the plan.

SILMAN - And I call him up and I tell him. I said, "Hey you know I've got -- we've got the best player on the team and you know me and him are talking about fixing a game together." And he's like, "Oh my God." He's like, "Who is it and I can make this happen." And I was like, "All right." So we started to talk about it over the phone for the next couple days and he's like, "Let me -- I'll find the game and we'll make this happen. Don't worry about it." So he calls me back and he says, "This is the game." And it's ASU against Oregon State.

GREENBERG - The date was January 28th, 1994. The Sun Devils were favored by 15. They just had to win by fewer than that. To this day eight years later Stevin Smith still can't believe how easy it was to shave points.

SMITH - It's not what people think it is. You know most people think you have to not score, don't, you know, miss a shot, throw the ball in the stands. That's obvious. That's things that make it look obvious.

SILMAN - So you know I'm at the game and I'll never forget it because Headache Smith is on fire. He's hitting three pointer, after three pointer, after three pointer.

GREENBERG - The Sun Devils won by only six points. Smith had done his job. On the night he was paid $20,000 to shave points he scored his career high of 39 tying a conference record with 10 three pointers.

SMITH - The only illegal thing I did was accept the money. As far as with the ball when I had my uniform on I gave 110 percent.

GREENBERG - Benny Silman was ecstatic. He flew to Las Vegas to meet the Chicago gambler.

SILMAN - So I'm at the - I believe it was Bally's and he's paying me the money. I remember he was giving me more money than I've ever seen in my life and it's money for me and Headache and he's -- as he's handing me the money he's like, "So when are we doing the next game? Tomorrow's perfect."

GREENBERG - Back in Arizona later that same day Silman received an unexpected phone call from another gambler named Sean Puopolo, an enormous man known as "Big Red."

SILMAN - He's a six foot five, 600-pound imposing figure, big red headed monster. Let me tell you when someone of this stature comes up to me, a 22-year-old kid with no connections and tells me, "I want in." He's in. There was really nothing I could say and it is right at this point that I was no longer in control.

GREENBERG - Two nights later January 30th the fix was in again. The Sun Devils were favored by 12 points but beat Oregon by only six. Smith scored 13 despite twisting an ankle. In the newspapers the following day he said, "It hurt. If I was selfish I would never have come back. I did it for the team."

SMITH - I don't feel bad at all because we won the game. You know that's the thing. True enough I was point shaving but my job is to win the game. We won the game.

GREENBERG - The next game they chose was three weeks later, February 20th 1994, Arizona State favored by nine against USC. The gamblers won again though this time the Sun Devils lost, a defeat that dealt a severe blow to their NCAA tournament host.

SILMAN - And I remember after the game Headache coming over to my house and telling me that that's the easiest money he's ever made in his life. And I said, "What are you talking about?" He goes, "We just got flat out beat. I didn't even have to do anything."

GREENBERG - Had it ended there it's highly unlikely any of this would ever have been uncovered, but greed got the best of them. There was still money to be made and one game left to make it, on March 5th, 1994 versus Washington. Arizona State was favored by 15 points.

SILMAN - So now you've got Chicago crew in Vegas, you got Big Red's crew and the money's been multiplying so we're all pressing our bets. Now you think Las Vegas, you could bet anything you want in Las Vegas and that's not necessarily true. Maybe on the Final Four or the Super Bowl but on a regular college basketball game that has no significance, it's going to raise flags.

GREENBERG - A one or two-point movement in a spread is not unusual but eyebrows were raised at the Nevada gaming board when the rush of money being bet on Arizona State not to cover the spread caused the line to move from 15 points to 11. When it moved all the way to three some casinos took the game off the board and authorities knew that something was going on. Arizona State also won big covering the spread. All the gamblers lost their bets.

SILMAN - My pager's ding, ding, ding off the hook. I got the guys from Chicago calling me. More importantly I've got Big Red calling me and that's what I'm really worried about. So I'm hiding out at my girlfriend's house that night and I get a call from my roommate apparently like Red's like holding him hostage until I come home so it's time for me to face the consequences so basically I went home.

Red was waiting for me, slapped me around a little bit, put a gun to my head, told me that I was responsible for this and that I owed him all this money for me to give him whatever I had and I told him. I said, "I'm done. I'm broke. I lost almost every dime I had on the game."

GREENBERG - There were legal consequences as well.

BRUCE GEBHARDT, FBI AGENT - This is one, in our opinion, one of the most significant sports bribery conspiracies involving college athletes in the country. According to the indictment, the wagers and collections were for four fixed ASU games and we believe it totaled approximately $900,000. The indictment alleges that 62 transactions were placed in eight different casinos located in Las Vegas.

GREENBERG - Stevin Smith pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit sports bribery and served a year and a day in prison. Benny Silman pled guilty to five counts including sports bribery, racketeering and money laundering. He served nearly four years. While in prison he read the Sports Illustrated story in which Smith claims the whole scheme began as a way to repay a $10,000 gambling debt to Silman.

SILMAN - I was like I couldn't believe some of the things he was saying. You know he makes it look like I pushed him up against a wall and said, "Hey, Headache fix these games." And that wasn't the case.

GREENBERG - Now for the first time Stevin Smith tells ESPN's Jeremy Schaap that he lied.

JEREMY SCHAAP - Did you owe him $10,000?

SMITH - No.

SCHAAP - You didn't?

SMITH - No.

SCHAAP - That's what it says in the Sports Illustrated story.

SMITH - That's the way it came out, you know. See honestly I've lied.

SCHAAP - So Headache if you didn't owe him $10,000. Why'd you do it?

SMITH - It was just - I was just in the fast lane. I just wanted the money you know. It was just something I couldn't, you know, say no to. I can't blame Benny. He didn't put no gun to my head. I don't have nothing against him and there's no way I'm going to sit up here and blame, you know. I mean I can't blame nobody but myself because I made the decision. I didn't -- I didn't have to say "yes." I chose to say "yes."

SILMAN - I know that there's a lot of bookies out there probably sitting on their couch right now with their notebook in hand taking the lines on the games thinking about possibly shaving points and let me tell you something. It might sound good right now but the end result, it just isn't worth it. I'm a living example.

LEY - Benny Silman was released from Federal prison nine months ago. He's back home in New York City and working as the assistant manager of a fast food restaurant. Stevin Smith once considered an NBA caliber player plays in Nancy in Eastern France. He leads the French A league in assists. He is second in steals. He is 30 years of age.

When we continue, I'll speak with the NCAA official charged with finding this problem, a sneaker executive close to the young players of today and an author who has investigated the duplicity of point shaving.

ANNOUNCER VOICEOVER - "Outside the Lines" is presented by State Farm Insurance. Like a good neighbor State Farm is there.

SMITH - You ask me do I think it's going on. Yes it's going on. I'm not even going to use a race but you take a young person out of a low income area and you present, you know, a stack of hundreds to him and it's not like you're killing nobody or nothing. How many of them do you think are going to say no?

LEY - Headache Smith joining us to consider the anatomy of a fix from Atlanta. Bill Saum the NCAA's Director of Agent Gambling and Amateurism Activities. Sonny Vaccaro is Director of Sports for Adidas. He's also at the Final Four Atlanta.

David Porter is the author of "Fixed How Good Fellows Bought Boston College Basketball" and he is joining us this morning from Amherst, Massachusetts. Good morning to you all. Bill, you are the cop on this beat and when you hear the two guys at the center of this say it's so darn easy to do, it must send a chill up your spine.

BILL SAUM, DIRECTOR, AGENT GAMBLING AND AMATEURISM ACTIVITIES, NCAA - Well Bob, we're aware of their comments. It's certainly -- it's a challenging comment by them but that's why we work so hard in our educational initiatives and our coaches pay so close attention to this issue.

LEY - But are they right? Is it that easy to do?

SAUM - I'm not sure it's quite as easy as they make it out to be. I've actually sat down with Benny on a couple of occasions and I think there's a little bit more to it. It's not quite as glamorous I think as maybe they would like to look back at it.

LEY - Sonny you've been around this game seemingly forever. You've seen it going back to the 50s, the 60s; every decade has had a series of events like this. What is it now in the 21st century? Is it easier to fix than ever?

SONNY VACCARO, DIRECTOR OF SPORTS, ADIDAS - I think so, Bob. You know contrary to what Billy thinks the education of the coaches and all the people going to make speeches; there are so many kids involved. There are so many games being played at certain times on television every darn day. Every kid's aware of what betting is today.

They weren't even aware of it so much in the 50s and 60s Bob and they're more aware of it now because you're hit constantly with it. The TV people talk about the lines. It's talked about the overs and unders and all the other things so they're much more aware and it's much easier to do.

I'm not saying it's being done but I don't think the kids really think it's a crime Bobby, I really don't. I think it's something that they just -- as that kid said, he was just doing something making a couple bucks.

LEY - What about that Bill? You've got Headache Smith saying the only illegal thing I did was take the money. In the game, he had 39 points and he also said I didn't have to do anything on the game that I lost. Sonny's saying he thinks kids don't even believe it's stigmatized the way that we've been saying that it is.

SAUM - Well actually, Sonny and I are on the same page when it comes to the mixed message that our young people get and we've been saying that for quite a few years. It's concerning to hear Stevin "Headache" Smith say the things he did. I feel for him. Obviously his view of intercollegiate athletics was a little different than the rest of ours. I tend to believe that while our young people may get a little frustrated with the system they have -- they have a heart of gold and their goal is to not only get educated but to win on the floor regardless of the point spread.

LEY - Well, you talk about frustration with the system. That, of course, gets back to the question of paying the kids. Is that an easy cop out on this? The kids get bitter they're not paid so they're susceptible then to fixing and shaving?

SAUM - Bob I think that is an easy cop out. Obviously, our young men and young women at Division I schools get quite a few benefits. They may deserve more and we're investigating and reviewing that but people don't wager because they have money or don't have money. It's a -- it's a feeling they have. They want the energy. They want the control.

VACCARO - You know Bob the only thing and, you know, I like this guy Benny Silman so much it's hard for me to sit here and go against him, but the only thing is, why do we keep assuming that every kid who is playing college athletics is, you know, Pollyanna.

Why do we think that everything's good? Why do we think every coach is, you know, the perfect human being? We're living in a society that's not perfect and the gambling society is part of the fabric and it happens. You know, every day someone close to a basketball coach, a football coach; an athletic director has something to do.

The poll sheets on this -- you know the contest, the 64 teams, everybody and their brother's playing something. Everybody's aware of it. So Billy, I don't think that we keep referring to these kids as student athletes. You know they're wonderful people. You know why are -- why do we have to have everybody wonderful? Everyone can't be wonderful Billy and some kids aren't.

SAUM - Sonny's right. I mean the world is not perfect even though this is wonderful Easter Sunday.

LEY - Right.

SAUM - But we are -- we have to get the point across to our young people both on the men's and women's side of athletics of what is right and wrong. We really aren't going to move the ball in this gambling situation until we change two things.

The number one thing is we need to convince the general public that there's something wrong with gambling on athletics and more importantly that it's illegal in 49 states and the second thing is we really need law enforcement's assistance in shutting down illegal sports wagering.

LEY - David Porter you've been very patient. Let me bring you in. This is something -- you investigated the BC fix and talked with some other people, that people can slide into almost without knowing that they're involved in.

DAVID PORTER, AUTHOR, "FIXED - HOW GOOD FELLOWS BOUGHT BOSTON COLLEGE BASKETBALL" - Well yes, and what happened in the BC case and also in the other cases that have happened since then is that it starts out almost innocuously if you want to call it that.

Rick Kuhn, who was the instigator in the BC case, had a high school friend who had an older brother who was a book maker on the side. He knew a drug dealer who was in prison with Henry Hill in the New York Mafia and so all of the sudden you've got this chain of people leading back to organized crime and just like the Arizona State case that we heard about as well, that led back to organized crime in addition.

And so, I think the players involved, if they knew perhaps at the beginning that that's where it eventually would lead to, they might not have gotten involved in it in the first place.

VACCARO - You know, Bob, if I can interrupt you, David wrote a book after you summarized all the facts of where, you know, these kids from Boston College, you know, poor Bill has to wait until something happens before he can even act on it and he's got to force of three at the NCAA.

We're talking about covering the whole America and Bill's theme is, you know, to shut down gambling. Well ladies and gentlemen, that's not going to happen. We're not going to shut down gambling. The NFL is the highest rated programs in the world. If they didn't have betting they wouldn't have a game. You know that and I know that.

SAUM - I perfectly agree with you on that Sonny and I'll tell you sports gambling has been around since ...

VACCARO - Right.

SAUM - The Ancient Romans. I mean Caligula was probably fixing chariot races. It's just continued since then.

VACCARO - So, I really feel and to go on something Bob you brought up earlier, I talked to a group of kids a couple years ago that stuck in my mind. They don't think it's an egregious thing. We were talking about the ills of what happens, the ills of recruiting and all that and I'm not, you know, trying to indict anybody here but more of them talked about some of the kids not being able to get an education.

I mean, you know, the academics fraud thing in Minnesota, that's right when we were talking to them. They thought that was a real severe situation. The gambling thing is just they talk about, you know, pick up the paper. You know you're going to talk about it tomorrow. Jim and Billy will talk about something that's a nine-point favor. They did it last night probably unconsciously, but they did do it and I can't help it. It's just hard to overcome Billy.

LEY - Is that a losing battle for you Bill? I know the NCAA has been trying to get the college games taken off the board totally in Vegas.

SAUM - Bob, it's not a losing battle. We -- it's -- we're fighting as both other guests have indicated gambling has been going on since the caveman days but what we -- for example we spent 30 minutes with each of the teams on Friday here in Atlanta and my co-worker was in San Antonio speaking to the women. We cannot give up getting our message across to young people.

As both of our guests have indicated, they're barraged with mixed messages. So we have to continually over and over through videos, through speaking, through newspaper articles, through any way we can to get the point across, but we need the general public to understand the impact on the decisions that they may be forcing a young person to make.

LEY - (INAUDIBLE) sit down with a game tape and just look at a game. This is almost impossible to detect with the naked eye isn't it?

PORTER - Yes. It's very easy to do as Headache Smith was saying and it's very difficult to detect. One of the things I wrote in my book was that one of the roommates of one of the players knew it was going on because his friend, a player, had told him, yet he went to the games the rest of the season and even though he knew it was going on, he couldn't tell.

He couldn't tell which turnovers were innocent and which were on purpose. I'd like to ask Bill, though, as far as the drive to ban wagers on collegiate sports in Nevada, I have some issues with that just because if you remember in the Arizona State piece we just heard, one of the ways that they detected that, was because red flags were raised at the casinos when a lot of money was bet.

SAUM - Well David that's the same -- the same line we hear from the casino industry. Certainly, they help the law enforcement on the back end but let's remember the other part of the piece. $900,000 was wagered in Las Vegas. What if that -- if Las Vegas hadn't taken the $900,000? What if we couldn't have laid the bets on the game? That point shaving case

LEY - (INAUDIBLE)

SAUM - It'd be tough to lay $900,000 with illegal bookies. Now it's not going to - this whole ...

LEY - We're short of time. Very quickly let me go around the horn. Percentages of in the next five years another scandal like this Bill?

SAUM - Well it'd be nave to think that the opportunity doesn't exist.

LEY - Give me a number.

SAUM - I would say - I'd say five percent.

LEY - Sonny?

VACCARO - Ten percent, a little bit better than Billy's.

LEY - David?

PORTER - I'd say a 25 percent chance.

GREENBERG - All right guys. We're talking numbers almost appropriately. Thank you very much (INAUDIBLE) Easter. Bill Saum, Sonny Vaccaro, David Porter, thanks for being with us.

"Outside the Lines" continues. We'll be back in just a moment.

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