Not an obvious call

The Baltimore Sun

West Chester, Pa. -- One thing certain about Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who is at the center of a federal sports gambling investigation, is that he left an impression.

Longtime friend Frank Capece, a New Jersey attorney, described Donaghy as a "good, decent guy who, if he had a weakness, it's that he wanted to give his family everything."

A neighbor of Donaghy's here, where the referee lived until 2005, developed a far different opinion.

"Tim could change in a minute," said Pete Mansueto, who filed a lawsuit against his onetime friend of 15 years in which Donaghy was accused of stalking and harassing Mansueto's family. The suit was dropped after Donaghy moved to Bradenton, Fla. "One minute he'd help an old lady across the street, and the next he'd knock her down if she stood in the way of a dollar."

NBA commissioner David Stern this week characterized Donaghy, 40, who had been an NBA referee for 13 seasons until he resigned July 9, as a "rogue" official who tainted the league's reputation by allegedly betting on pro basketball games. The FBI reportedly is also looking into whether Donaghy supplied inside information to underworld gambling figures or perhaps even influenced game scores and outcomes with his calls.

Until late last week when news broke that Donaghy was under the scrutiny of federal investigators, he was a little-known actor in the universe of big-time sports. Now, his activities over the past few years have the potential to rock a sports league already struggling with image problems and waning TV popularity.

What has emerged about Donaghy -- who is married and has four daughters -- from sources familiar with him, court documents and published reports is that gambling was a favorite pursuit and that he had the capacity for unpredictable, sometimes abusive behavior.

John Lauro, Donaghy's attorney, did not return calls seeking a comment.

A man who answered the phone listed for Gerald Donaghy, the referee's father and a former Atlantic Coast Conference referee, declined to comment.

An NBA referee who was a friend of Donaghy's and lived nearby in Pennsylvania also declined to comment.

Donaghy's legal problems with the Mansuetos were just one of several serious confrontations Donaghy had with others, including a reported incident in which he attempted to run a mail carrier off the road after the postal worker had accidentally knocked over a recycling container at the referee's home.

But Donaghy also could be generous, participating in basketball clinics at a suburban Philadelphia school for students with mental and physical disabilities.

"He's quick with a smile and a laugh," Capece said. "It's mind-boggling to me this effort to make him out to be a brawler. ... If he was such a bad guy, how would he rise to the NBA so quickly and stay there?"

Donaghy came out of a basketball culture in the Philadelphia area, where he was born and raised, that has produced dozens of NBA players, coaches and referees. Last season, he was one of four NBA refs who attended the same high school, Cardinal O'Hara in Springfield. The others are Joey Crawford, Mike "Duke" Callahan and Eddie Malloy. At least three more NBA refs -- Steve Javie, Mark Wunderlich and Tom Washington -- went to high school and live in the Philadelphia area.

Donaghy played basketball at Cardinal O'Hara for Buddy Gard- ler, a 40-year coaching veteran and the winningest coach in the Philadelphia Catholic League, before moving on to Villanova University.

"As a basketball player, he played hard, he showed up every day, he did what I told him to do," Gardler said. "All I can say now is that I'm praying for his family."

Since Donaghy's name surfaced as part of the alleged FBI investigation, it has been reported that he played varsity baseball at Villanova, and his biography on the National Basketball Referees Association Web site says that he played varsity basketball for the Wildcats.

The Villanova sports information office said it could find no evidence that he played either sport at the school.

The lawsuit filed against Donaghy by the Mansuetos -- who lived in a four-house cul-de-sac in an affluent country club neighborhood in Chester County -- paints an unflattering portrait of the referee.

In their suit, the Mansuetos said Donaghy repeatedly yelled obscenities at Lisa Mansueto while she played golf and that the couple believed Donaghy set fire to their tractor and that he had run Pete Mansueto's golf cart into a ravine. Even the country club got involved, suspending Donaghy for 90 days for harassing Lisa Mansueto, and Pete Mansueto for a month for threatening Donaghy, Pete Mansueto said.

Lisa Mansueto said she and her husband dropped the lawsuit after Donaghy moved to Florida in 2005.

Said Pete Mansueto: "I can't say Tim was all bad; he would do things like volunteering at [the school for the mentally and physically disabled]. But if you were on his bad side, there is nothing he wouldn't do to make you pay."

Donaghy was known to his former friend to be a gambler. Pete Mansueto said the NBA referee played in home poker games, wagered on the golf course and was a visitor to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J., where he played blackjack in the high-roller areas of the casino.

Another former acquaintance of Donaghy's in West Chester, a real estate broker, told the New York Daily News a similar story -- that Donaghy played poker, bet on golf and frequented the Borgata.

A spokesman for Boyd Gaming, which owns the casino-hotel in conjunction with MGM Mirage, said the company declines to comment on its customers.

In 2003, Donaghy was involved in a much-publicized incident with NBA player Rasheed Wallace, then with the Portland Trail Blazers, who confronted Donaghy after a game over a technical foul. An angry Wallace attempted to get at Donaghy, was restrained and suspended for seven games.

Those who have known Donaghy for years and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case said he was prone to impulsive behavior and in recent years those in the referee fraternity had distanced themselves from him.

Capece said he had heard similar stories about Donaghy's alleged temper but said he never saw that side of him. But Capece said he warned Donaghy that he should save more for his daughters' educations, especially after Donaghy had purchased a BMW.

"If anyone would have been popped by Tim it's me," Capece said, "I'd lecture him about money and about moving to Florida. His kids were Pennsylvania kids and I didn't think it was good for them. ... I categorically reject that [Donaghy had a short fuse]. It's time to leave everyone to their proofs."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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