What Made History in 2007?
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NBA Referee Pleads Guilty in Betting Scandal

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On August 15, 2007, Tim Donaghy, a former National Basketball Association (NBA) referee, appeared in a Brooklyn federal court and pleaded guilty to two felony charges in the NBA's betting scandal, and confessed that he used inside information to predict the winners of NBA games in return for money from gamblers. The investigation became public when, on June 20, 2007, the FBI contacted the NBA to discuss an investigation that had exposed a referee betting on games. Later, it was revealed that Donaghy had been involved in gambling by placing thousands of dollars in bets during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 NBA seasons, and that he was approached by professional gamblers to use his position to provide inside information about issues that would have an impact on the outcomes of games.

Donaghy had been a referee long enough to know how different referees interacted with different players during games. He had worked NBA games for about 13 years. On July 9, Donaghy resigned under FBI investigation on the gambling issue. NBA Commissioner David Stern said at a press conference on July 24 that the NBA had only learned of the allegations against Donaghy during the prior month. He said that league would have fired Donaghy immediately, but was advised not to do so because this might affect the investigation. As with all major sports officials, NBA referees are not allowed to bet on games or communicate information they might know about crews of officials to outside people. Stern referred to the Donaghy case not only as a violation of NBA rules, but as criminal conduct as well. He characterized Donaghy as a "rogue, isolated criminal" and expected that no other players or officials were involved in such gambling. Stern said he was uninformed of specific accusations that Donaghy fixed or tampered with the final scores of games. Instead, he said, "When you place a bet on a game, you lose the benefit of the doubt."

On August 15, Donaghy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in a wire fraud and transmitting gambling information through interstate commerce. He confessed making phone calls around the United States to pass the word about the crew working the game and his recommendations of winning teams, called "picks", often using "a coded language". He also told the judge that he was seeing a psychiatrist for his gambling addiction and was taking medication for depression and anxiety. U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon said that Donaghy had "unique access" to know about the physical conditions of certain players, what crews would officiate at games, and the interaction of different officials and players.

Donaghy was fined $500,000 and will also have to pay $30,000 in restitution. Two co-conspirators, James Battista and Thomas Martino, were also arraigned in federal court. Battista, former owner of a sports bar in Havertown, Pennsylvania, also known as "Baba" and "Sheep", is a professional gambler. Martino is a high school friend of Donaghy whose house was used by Battista to conduct his gambling business and Martino acted as a broker for the gambling.

An FBI affidavit in support of arrest warrants for Battista and Martino said that Donaghy would call Martino, who in turn would call Battista, who then placed the bets. According to the affidavit, Martino gave money to Donaghy for correct picks in Phoenix, Toronto and Washington in January, March and April, respectively, when Donaghy was present in those cities to officiate NBA games. Cell phone records showed "hundreds of calls" from October 1, 2006, through May 1, 2007, between Donaghy and Martino and between Martino and Battista. Both Martino and Battista were released on $250,000 bond each and, if convicted, both could face up to 20 years in jail. Moreover, Andrew Thomas, the country attorney for Maricopa County, Arizona, has asked the NBA if Donaghy intentionally miscalled two Phoenix Suns home playoff games against the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, and he has said that Donaghy has violated Arizona criminal law.

Donaghy was released on a $250,000 bond and his indictment is expected on January 25, 2008. According to legal experts, he could face up to 25 years in prison but the penalty could be reduced if he cooperates with the government. In some reports, it has also been highlighted that Donaghy is expected to expose other NBA referees involved in such gambling practices. Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said that $30,000 in restitution does not necessarily represent the amount he earned through bets. Donaghy's attorney, John Lauro, told reporters after Donaghy's guilty plea, "Tim deeply regrets his involvement in this matter and especially the pain it has caused his family, friends and co-workers."

The technical and personal fouls called and players ejected from games officiated by Donaghy are all now under scrutiny, and the case has made other professional sports leagues take a long, hard look at the actions of their own officials. NBA Commissioner David Stern has done his best to demonstrate the NBA's commitment to the integrity of the game, stating on the NBA's website, "We will continue with our ongoing and thorough review of the league's officiating program to ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place to protect the integrity of our game." U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois referred to this case as "one of the most damaging scandals in the history of American sports." The obvious question that follows is if other referees were involved, as federal authorities believe, in game fixing and passing insider information on to gamblers.

Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal

Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal
Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal completed his MS in anthropology from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2006. He has worked with the World Bank on the evaluation of rural support programs and is currently working with Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund. He is also serving as an editor for Omertaa, Journal for Applied Anthropology and has written several articles on different social and cultural issues, and entries for history encyclopedias.
 

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