NCAA President Mark Emmert, wildly compensated himself with $1.6 million a year in salary and benefits, admitted that this lousy case had deteriorated into an embarrassing mess. Staffers were fired and Emmert promised that any tainted information would be discarded. Yet on Tuesday, damning charges of “a loss of institutional control” came down against UM, though not much was left of the case beyond the dodgy evidence offered by a convicted Ponzi schemer.
UM President Donna Shalala’s astounded reaction was reminiscent of the sentiment expressed in the McNair lawsuit three months earlier. “Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying. The NCAA enforcement staff acknowledged to the university that if Nevin Shapiro, a convicted con man, said something more than once, it considered the allegation ‘corroborated’—an argument which is both ludicrous and counter to legal practice.”
But to characterize Shapiro as a mere con man understates the extent of his mendacity.
At Shapiro’s 2011 sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton was so taken aback by Shapiro’s twisted narcissism, she wondered whether there was a “pathological component” to his bizarre insistence that he was the real victim in his $930 million Ponzi fraud, and that his duped investors should have known that the returns he was offering in his grocery arbitrage scheme were not realistic.
“I know what it’s like to be a victim of financial fraud and it’s a horrible feeling. It’s invasive, it’s — there’s anger — you know, you feel anger, depression, remorse,” Shapiro told the judge. Of course, his victimhood had been mitigated by his $2 million waterfront mansion, a $1.5 million yacht, the $4,700-a-month leased Mercedes, wild parties, gambling sprees and $400,000 floor-seat season tickets to the Miami Heat.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob T. Elberg responded angrily, “To suggest that those people were somehow in the wrong for believing the lies that he told them is offensive and it’s wrong.”
Judge Wigenton refused to lower Shapiro’s 20-year prison sentence, saying, “While you certainly have pled guilty, it appears to be this desire to, I don’t know, perhaps blame others, soil others, the reputation of others....”
The judge’s observation was not so different from the findings of the NCAA’s internal investigation. Shapiro’s own attorney, the report said, had admitted to the NCAA investigators that her client “was looking for revenge against the U. Miami players and coaches who he believed had turned their backs on him when he got in trouble with the federal authorities.”
Yet the NCAA clings to the convenient fantasy that their convicted felon of a witness, like Lloyd Lake before him, remains someone worthy of belief. After all, the association’s sanctions case against UM hangs on his meager credibility.
The NCAA infractions committee might want to consider Judge Wigenton’s courtroom remarks at Shapiro’s sentencing hearing in 2011. They seem almost prescient in 2013.
“It just is amazing that so many individuals were duped by you. It’s really amazing,” the judge said. “And I can only conclude that somehow you had an uncanny ability to convince, sway, persuade people to do things that didn’t even make sense….”