The fix is on for tonight's game." That chilling phrase went from the mouth of a Tulane basketball player to the ears of some friends on the afternoon of the Feb. 20 Green Wave-Memphis State game. Those words ultimately led to an investigation that erupted in New Orleans last week and sent tremors to Lexington, Ky., where the Final Four were staging what should have been college basketball's most festive week.
Point shaving was back in the news for the first time since the Boston College debacle became public in 1981. Four of the Tulane starters on a mediocre (15-13) team allegedly went in the tank for two games. Incredibly, they included 6'10" senior center John (Hot Rod) Williams—the team's leading scorer (17.8 points per game), leading rebounder (7.8 per game) and leading shot blocker (64 for the season), as well as the Metro Conference's Player of the Year for 1984—who was considered a near certainty to be a first-round NBA pick. That would most likely have meant a three-year contract worth about $1 million, to be followed by serious money if he developed as everyone expected he would.
Williams reportedly received $900 for helping make sure Tulane failed to cover the 10½-point spread it was favored by over Southern Mississippi on Feb. 2 (Tulane won 64-63) and $4,500 for helping ensure that the team lose the Feb. 20 game to Memphis State by more than the seven-point spread. Tulane lost 60-49. Said Williams after he was arrested, "I didn't do anything." Today, though, a career for Williams in the NBA is in doubt because the office of the Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick has a subsequent videotape on which Williams, according to Assistant D.A. Eric Dubelier, has made a confession.
Williams was booked for sports bribery, and among other things he has to say on the tape, according to a source in the district attorney's office, is that when he was recruited out of St. Amant (La.) High School, where he was named Most Popular Boy, Most Likely to Succeed and Most Talented, he received a shoebox containing thousands of dollars in return for deciding to play basketball for Tulane. Hindman Wall, the school's athletic director, said, "I've never heard anything like that before. I know nothing about that."
Altogether, the four Tulane starters—senior forwards Jon Johnson of Columbus, Ga. and Clyde Eads of Tampa; sophomore point guard David Dominique of New Iberia, La.; and Williams—as well as senior reserve guard Bobby Thompson of New Orleans, reportedly sold out for a total of some $23,000 for the two games. Thompson and Dominique also were arrested last week and booked for sports bribery, a felony punishable by one-to-five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In exchange for testimony against their teammates to an Orleans Parish grand jury now sitting, Eads and Johnson were granted immunity from state prosecution.
Three nonathletes also were arrested in the case: Gary B. Kranz, 21, of New Rochelle, N.Y., for sports bribery and possession and distribution of cocaine; Mark Olensky, 21, of Fair Lawn, N.J., on two bribery charges and two conspiracy counts; and David Rothenberg, 22, of Wilton, Conn., on a conspiracy charge. These three were a tight-knit little group from the East Coast, bound by their enjoyment of sports and by their onetime membership in Tulane's Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.
Evidently cocaine became part of the equation. At Kranz's apartment, cocaine was allegedly given to players as a goodwill gesture, a favor that may have won friendship and confidence. "All five players involved were doing coke," says Dubelier. In that atmosphere, the point-shaving idea apparently became that much easier to broach.
And last Friday a New Orleans bookie, Roland Ruiz, 48, was arrested on five counts of sports bribery and one of conspiracy to bribe. A source in the district attorney's office says Ruiz invested money to ensure that points would be shaved in the Memphis State game, which had already been rigged. Indictments are expected within a few weeks.
How could such a scandal occur at one of the country's most respected universities? The following is the alleged scenario of the case as pieced together by SI from interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys, players and other sources. As of Monday, most of those under arrest had refused comment or could not be reached for comment. Olensky's attorney said his client would plead innocent.
About four months ago, Kranz started to become friendly with Eads, who wanted to buy cocaine. Later, Kranz wanted some Tulane basketball gear. He asked Eads if he could get it, in exchange for half a gram of cocaine. Eads said Johnson would be in a better position to get the equipment. Soon Kranz had eight pairs of shorts, two sweat shirts, one pair of sweat pants, one Tulane team jersey, one warmup suit and a pair of sneakers.
On the day of the Southern Mississippi game, Kranz, Rothenberg and Olensky allegedly decided that Kranz should approach Eads. He did, and Eads talked it over with Johnson. Both were interested, but said they would have to check it out with "our main man," Williams, and the point guard, Dominique. Later that day Eads, Johnson, Williams and Dominique had a discussion and apparently deeded to go along with Kranz and his colleagues. Later still, Thompson was enlisted by the players. Thompson (whose father, Robert, is due to be released from federal prison this summer after serving some two years of a three-year sentence for making illegal loans) was known to be a gambler conversant with bookie jargon, a man who could act as a go-between for Kranz and his friends.
There was little time in which to bet the Southern Mississippi game, but about $7,000 was wagered on it. Williams, Eads and Johnson each received $900, while Dominique and Thompson each got $400. At a post-game gathering at Kranz's apartment, where cocaine was available, one player was heard to say, "Hey, we won the game and we still got all the money."
The next target was the Virginia Tech game on Feb. 16. But already there was bickering among the players, and according to statements made to the prosecutors, Eads and Johnson were getting nervous. Nothing was done in connection with the Virginia Tech game—"They just couldn't get it together," says Dubelier—and attention turned to the Feb. 20 Memphis State game. But Johnson wanted out. He had stopped attending clandestine meetings with the others, some of which were at Kranz's $600-a-month, two-bedroom apartment just off the Tulane campus. Eads also wanted to take his leave, but told the other players, "If it looks like I need to do something, I'll be in."
Meanwhile, Thompson, who is cooperating with the prosecution, made contact with Ruiz and—unbeknownst to the others—suggested that for the right price he could arrange to have points shaved against Memphis State. It was a classic case of "double dipping," Dubelier says, with Thompson neglecting to tell Ruiz the fix was already in place. Ruiz, who has at least two convictions for gambling-related crimes and who spent 15 months in a federal prison for dealing in counterfeit money, reportedly agreed to distribute $6,000 to the players through a middleman. By far the biggest share went to Thompson.
Sources both in and out of the D.A.'s office say that with more advance warning this time, Olensky and Rothenberg were able to get together $34,000 to bet that Tulane would lose to Memphis State by more than the seven points quoted in Las Vegas. But placing that much money—especially on a Tulane game, which carried scant national interest—was difficult. To solve the problem, Olensky and a friend flew to Las Vegas and were able to get $18,000 down at about 10 different sports books. Another $10,000 was bet with Birmingham bookies and the remaining $6,000 was placed in New Orleans with a bookmaker who is also a Tulane student. Kranz, meanwhile, was in Florida between Feb. 16 and 23 with his parents.
In the Memphis State game, Tulane was ahead by six points at the half. Eads and some other Green Wave players met in the bathroom during the intermission and talked about what should be done. They agreed that State would have to be allowed to score early; indeed, State's star forward, Keith Lee, made three straight baskets in the first 2:17 of the second half to tie the score 34-34. Memphis State guard Andre Turner scored 10 points in the last 7:22 as State pulled away. In the 38 minutes Eads played, he took one shot, which he made, and had five turnovers. This is the same Eads who had been named Instant Offense at an awards banquet and who fired up 226 field-goal attempts during the season. Against State, he failed to shoot in the second half. He later claimed he had an injured wrist. In the final 1:12 of the game, Memphis State's margin never fell below eight points.
Early in the following week, Dubelier says, the players received $13,500, with the largest share, approximately $4,500, going to Williams. "The players were simply motivated by the idea they didn't have to do anything," says another source. "But they knew it was wrong, they did it anyway. They accepted the money." There was talk of rigging the Feb. 26 Louisville game, but the players refused. Said one, "We've wanted to beat Louisville forever." They did, 68-56, ending an 0-18 streak.
By now, rumors were flying. On March 15 Edward F. (Ned) Kohnke IV, a maritime lawyer and Tulane benefactor, was having dinner with his brother Rick, an assistant D.A., their wives and Kohnke's other brother, Doug, at a New Orleans restaurant—Frankie & Johnny's. Talk turned to Tulane basketball, and Doug told his brother he'd heard disturbing rumors. Ned Kohnke was deeply troubled. "I didn't want to go forward unless there was something more than smoke," he says. "What I found was a raging fire."
After several days of torment, he got in touch with Connick's office. Then Kohnke confronted Eads, with whom he often worked out. The two drove around town for 30 minutes, and Kohnke explained immunity to the distraught player. Eads later asked if immunity could be gotten for Johnson, too. Yes, said Kohnke, who occasionally acts as an unpaid volunteer assistant D.A. The arrest of Kranz and Williams on March 26 was the first hint something was amiss.
Coach Ned Fowler, a man of impeccable reputation, with a 70-45 record for his four seasons at Tulane, says he had no idea that point shaving was going on. "It's sad," he says, "but we'll overcome it." None of the other Tulane players have been implicated. The university had launched an internal investigation of the point-shaving rumors, but came up with nothing concrete.
However, the D.A.'s office did, and now college basketball, tarnished too often in the past by point shaving and recruiting misdeeds, has another scandal on its hands.
Williams, the Green Wave's star (left); Dominique, the point guard (middle); and reserve guard Thompson (below) were arrested and are now facing charges of sports bribery.
Kranz (above) reportedly offered cocaine to players; Ruiz (far right) allegedly bought into the plot with $6,000 in player payoffs.
[See caption above.]
Fowler instructed Williams during a happier time.