When the NCAA threw out a key chunk of its case against the University of Miami because some evidence was gathered improperly, the Hurricanes’ athletic program caught a big break.
Discovery of the tainted evidence earlier this year — obtained by rogue UM booster Nevin Shapiro’s attorney, whom the NCAA paid to question two reluctant witnesses in violation of its own rules — weakened a probe already largely built on the word of a Ponzi schemer.
Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said that and other factors led to the NCAA’s decision not to pile penalties on UM, especially after the Hurricanes had already given up two post-season bowl games and the ACC title game last year.
“The NCAA bungled the UM investigation, and the fact that it took so long for them to complete it did not help,” Jarvis said. “The NCAA is a weakened institution that has shot itself repeatedly in the foot over the last few years.”
Bruce Fleisher, a South Florida attorney who represented two UM alumni players contacted by the NCAA during the probe, said that part of the investigation’s problem was the credibility of Shapiro. “He was a convicted fraud artist who for whatever reason was trying to get back at UM,” he said.
“Another major factor was how the NCAA obtained information from Shapiro’s lawyer,” Fleisher said. “The NCAA should have conducted their own due diligence independent of getting information from Shapiro’s attorney.”
The NCAA’s 102-page infractions report, issued Tuesday, makes short-shrift of the discarded evidence against UM: Shapiro’s dual role as a $1.5 million investor in a Florida sports agency called Axcess and as a sugar daddy who also gave impermissible cash gifts to UM stars with a shot at the NFL.
That’s because the NCAA was forced to toss out almost all of that evidence in February – roughly 20 percent of the case — after conducting an internal probe of its own investigation of UM.
The NCAA’s admitted mishandling of the investigation triggered demands to drop the UM probe from university officials and targeted coaches — to no avail.
In 2011, the NCAA’s investigators had improperly retained Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, to use her subpoena power in a bankruptcy case to compel the deposition testimony of Axcess’ founder, Michael Huyghue, and former UM assistant equipment manager, Sean Allen. The latter had worked briefly for the sports agency.
“They really glossed over the sports agency in the report,” Allen told the Herald Tuesday. “They didn’t really delve into it.”
The two depositions, along with related sports agency records, provided extensive evidence of Shapiro’s use of Axcess to target top UM players as NFL prospects. After the NCAA’s debacle, their testimony and any related evidence could no longer be used, weakening the organization’s overall UM case.
But the NCAA infraction’s report covers little of that information — Shapiro’s cash gift of $50,000 to an unnamed UM athlete in February 2003 who, in fact, signed with Axcess. His name: Vince Wilfork, a star defensive lineman who went on to fame with the New England Patriots. It does not mention, for example, that Shapiro also claimed he gave Wilfork and his girlfriend a pair of Cadillac Escalades, instead referring to “significant gifts.”