CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — There was a spirit of cooperation that hovered throughout much of the NCAA’s long probe of Miami athletics, so much so that the sides used to call the proceedings a joint inquiry.
That’s not the case anymore.
And especially not now — not after a day during which the NCAA defended its mistakes and Miami demanded a speedy resolution.
With the long-awaited notice of allegations against Miami looming — and possibly being prepared for delivery by the NCAA as early as Tuesday — the sides both made strong statements on Monday, first when the NCAA said its “missteps” would not derail the case, then when the Hurricanes rebutted by calling the probe “unprofessional and unethical.”
“This is going to go forward,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said.
Countered Miami President Donna Shalala: “We have been wronged.”
A legal battle now seems possible, especially since Miami made its position clear on Monday: It will not accept any other sanctions other than the stiff ones it already has self-inflicted, a list that includes missing three postseason football games, holding back some football scholarships and declaring several players ineligible after they were found to be involved in wrongdoing.
“This process must come to a swift resolution, which includes no additional punitive measures beyond those already self-imposed,” Shalala wrote.
The saga began with a Miami booster alleging that he plied athletes, recruits and coaches with impermissible benefits such as cash, yacht trips, lavish dinners and strip-club outings. In the past few weeks, the NCAA has had to acknowledge that it paid that booster’s attorney to use subpoena power to depose witnesses who were unwilling to cooperate with the investigation.
The NCAA said it paid Maria Elena Perez, the attorney for former booster Nevin Shapiro, more than $19,000 for work she performed, primarily using subpoena power to ask questions on the association’s behalf and doing so under the guise of a bankruptcy case. The NCAA does not have subpoena power and was not involved in Shapiro’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Upon learning that Perez was willing to participate with investigators, members of the NCAA’s legal team urged the enforcement department not to proceed, though they apparently were ignored. And now the depositions given by former Miami equipment-room staffer Sean Allen and former Shapiro business partner Michael Huyghue — along with any other lead that came out of their interviews — have been tossed from the NCAA’s case against the Hurricanes.
“Based upon our review, it is our opinion that the current assertions in the U. Miami Investigative Record are not based on evidence that is derived, directly or indirectly, from the depositions of Mr. Allen or Mr. Huyghue,” said a report into the NCAA’s relationship with Perez.
The report was ordered last month after wrongdoing within the NCAA office was first acknowledged.
Perez did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Florida Bar said last week that it has opened a file to see if Perez broke any rules through her involvement in the Miami-NCAA matter.
“Sadly the NCAA has not lived up to their own core principles,” Shalala wrote. “The lengthy and already flawed investigation has demonstrated a disappointing pattern of unprofessional and unethical behavior. By the NCAA leadership’s own admission, the University of Miami has suffered from inappropriate practices by NCAA staff.”
Some of those NCAA staff are gone now, most recently and notably Julie Roe Lach. She was the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement — its top cop — since 2010, and is now being replaced on a temporary basis by Jonathan Duncan, a lawyer with extensive experience working with the association.
“Obviously, this is an outcome that nobody wants to see on their watch or anyone else’s,” Emmert said. “This is something that’s an embarrassment to the association and our staff.”
Lach was part of the chain that approved payments to Perez, the attorney for Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi scheme architect now serving a 20-year term in federal prison. According to a 52-page report commissioned by the NCAA and released Monday, Perez offered her help to the NCAA in the form of “using bankruptcy subpoenas to compel depositions from witnesses who had refused to cooperate.”
The NCAA, in turn, provided her with specific questions to ask, those coming in an email from former investigator Ameen Najjar, dated Dec. 18, 2011. “Maria, Listed below are a number of areas we would like you to explore,” began the email from Najjar.
From there, he listed 34 questions, none of which seems to be in any way related to a bankruptcy case.
According to the NCAA, Perez billed the NCAA $57,115 for work performed from October 2011 through July 2012 — though Lach and other officials were expecting the amount of her work to cost roughly $15,000.
One email released by the NCAA from an investigator who worked on the case said they wanted her to depose Allen because the NCAA “did not think he would interview with us again” otherwise.
Another point in the report was that an NCAA staffer bought a prepaid cellphone and paid for Shapiro’s prison phone calls. The NCAA spent about $8,200 “to fund communications with Mr. Shapiro, including transfers of approximately $4,500 to his prison commissary account.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.