Ex-NBA referee pleads guilty

The Baltimore Sun

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who pleaded guilty yesterday to federal conspiracy charges, is a key informant used by prosecutors to build a case against gamblers suspected of betting on professional basketball games, according to court records.

Donaghy, 40, who admitted having a gambling addiction, stated during his guilty plea in Brooklyn federal court that he sold out his 13-year career as an NBA referee for cash payments from gamblers to whom he gave confidential information.

Once implicated in the probe carried out by the New York squad of FBI agents assigned to cover the Gambino crime family, Donaghy provided information to the FBI that led to the arrest of two other suspects, the records indicated. The probe is continuing, a law enforcement source said.

The case amounts to the NBA's version of an insider trading scandal, with Donaghy telling U.S. Judge Carol B. Amon he told high rollers about which league officials were refereeing games and the physical conditions of players.

Donaghy, dressed in an olive suit and wearing dressy brown athletic shoes, also said that he gave the gamblers his own prediction about which teams would win. "By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games," Donaghy told Amon.

"Some of my picks included games I had been assigned to referee," he said. "I would use a telephone or cell phone to make calls around the country ... so that bets could be placed with professional bookmakers."

NBA commissioner David Stern said yesterday the league was continuing its review of officiating "to protect the integrity of our game."

The gamblers paid Donaghy $2,000 for correct game picks but didn't penalize him for incorrect ones, federal prosecutors said in a criminal information filed against Donaghy.

Investigators believed Donaghy made at least $30,000 from December to April, an amount he has to forfeit to the government as ill-gotten gains. He also faces a maximum prison sentence of 25 years and $500,000 in fines, and might have to pay a still undetermined amount of restitution to the NBA, which prosecutors said was deprived of his "honest" services. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to transmit gambling information through the telephone.

Amon set Nov. 9 as the sentencing date. Donaghy was free on an unsecured $250,000 bond and eluded reporters as he left the courthouse through a rear entrance.

But while Donaghy admitted in court to betting on games in which he officiated, he wasn't charged with that as part of the conspiracies. He also didn't say he threw a game or tried to affect a final score.

"He expressed a great deal of remorse for the pain he has caused his family and friends," defense attorney John Lauro of Florida said to reporters outside the Brooklyn courthouse.

Donaghy's role as a crucial witness for the FBI in the widely publicized investigation was indicated in a related criminal complaint filed against two of his suspected accomplices. Charged with similar conspiracy counts of wire fraud and transmission of betting information were one-time restaurateur James Battista, 41, also known as "Baba," and Thomas Martino, 42. Both are from Pennsylvania. Each was freed on $250,000 bond yesterday.

In an arrest affidavit, FBI agent Paul Harris said that a law enforcement source against Battista and Martino had been an NBA referee for the past 13 years, a description that matches Donaghy's career. The affidavit describes the source as "CS-1" but also relates events such as telephone calls, cash payments and Canadian trips that track those in the case against Donaghy. Prosecutors Thomas Seigel and Jeff Goldberg wouldn't comment when asked if Donaghy was cooperating. Lauro also declined comment.

Anthony M. DeStefano writes for Newsday.

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