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The Fix Is In

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“I told the feds that this kid took money from me in a hotel room in Boston. I think I gave him $5,000 and an ounce of coke. He took it right out of my (expletive) hand. They didn't believe that, and they believed this kid instead for the longest time until the truth finally came out.” – gangster Henry Hill.

Since the early fifties, point-shaving and fixing games to stay below or above a given point spread has been a federal crime that has plagued college sports, especially basketball.

From the 1950-51 CCNY scandal, to this year's San Diego University gambling ring—which currently has two players and an assistant coach under investigation for alleged sports bribery and conducting an illegal gambling business—the NCAA wears a perpetual black eye when it comes to preventing gambling.

“Fixing is everywhere,” said a Las Vegas handicapper and admitted book-keeper who wished to remain anonymous. “You can't avoid it, and there is nothing the NCAA can do to stop it. If you told Vegas to stop taking college bets, more and more illegal bets would just be placed. You'll never get rid of point-shaving in college sports.”

With the advent of the internet, sports gambling has become accessible far beyond the bright lights of Las Vegas.

According to the National Impact Study Commission, $2.76 billion was legally wagered in Nevada's sports books in 2010. That number is dwarfed by the estimated $370 billion in illegal wagers annually.

According to the FBI, an estimated $2.5 billion is illegally wagered on the NCAA basketball tournament alone.

An NCAA-sponsored study completed by the University of Cincinnati found that 25 percent of 2,000 male student-athletes at the Division-1 basketball and football levels admitting to wagering on college sports events other than their own while in college. Four percent admitted to wagering on games in which they had played. Three athletes said they actually changed the outcome of the game in which they participated.

“I've gotten kids to do it,” said the handicapper. “I know a lot of others who got kids to do it, too. These kids might as well be third-world examples. They have no money, they can't work, and most of them ain't got a shot in hell to make it to the pros. You and I would want paid for playing ball. They do too. We help them get that money. Sometimes they help themselves.”

It's shockingly simple, he says.

“It's as easy as setting up an account with a local bookie or an off-shore (online) betting account. Let's say a star player for his team needs some extra cash. He's playing a damn awful team, and his team is favored by 14 points, for the sake of argument. He gets a buddy to set up an account. His buddy then places the amount he wants wagered on the other team to cover. This player then takes the court, comes up short on a few shots, gets his pocket picked a few times, plays ghost defense on a few plays. After that, his team only wins by nine, and as easy as that, this kid got some extra money.”

Notorious gangster Henry Hill, whose life is recounted in Nicholas Pileggi's novel Wiseguy, and Martin Scorcese's Academy Award-winning film "Goodfellas," says a scholarship carries no weight like that of hard cash to an average student-athlete.

“All of college sports is (expletive) up because they don't pay the kids,” Hill said. “Some of those kids are on scholarships. Big (expletive) deal, you know, what's a scholarship to a kid anyway? It all comes down to money eventually.”

Hill, who was an associate of the Lucchese crime family—and later an FBI informant—helped design and execute one of the more famous point-shaving scandals in the history of collegiate athletics alongside mobster Jimmy Burke and several members of the 1978-79 Boston College basketball team.

Conceived by Pittsburgh bookmakers Rocco Perla and his brother Tony, the group got to Boston College star player Rick Kuhn, who then brought in teammates Jim Sweeney and Joe Streater on the plot to fix games in the '78-'79 basketball season.

“It was assembled when they came to me, and the only reason they came to me was because we had a string of bookmakers,” said Hill. “The first bet we would lay down, the game would automatically go in a circle, so it started jacking the line up, and the bet's worth.

“All we had to give the kids was $2,500 a man, so that's $7,500 total,” continued Hill. “But after the first or second game, they wanted us to pick it up to $7,500 a man for them. That was another way we knew that they would perform for us.”

There was never a concern about any of the players not “performing,” according to Hill, because there was a simple phrase he used with the kids who were in on the plan.

“I told them you can't play basketball in casts.”

After the first fix attempt—Dec. 6, 1978 vs. Providence—failed, a Dec. 16 game against Harvard, where Boston College was favored by 12 to 13 points, was the first successfully fixed game. Kuhn, Sweeney and Streater helped keep the final score to a three-point (89-86) difference.

After Hill and the others recruited Eagles' leading scorer Ernie Cobb to the con, the BC squad went on to fix five more games before Hill was arrested and indicted by New York state authorities on drug trafficking charges, ultimately putting an end to the scam.

On testimony given by Hill, Burke and the Perla brothers—and two players, Kuhn and Cobb—were  indicted by a grand jury. All received jail time except Cobb, who was acquitted.

Hill's point-shaving scandal wasn't the first, nor the last, to rock the collegiate sports world. Arizona State, Northwestern and Toledo basketball teams were all found to have fixed games, as was the 2007 Toledo football team. The most recent scandal is ongoing, involving the University of San Diego basketball team.

None of this should be surprising, according to Hill.

“I don't think the character of a human being changes whether he's in junior college or at a Division-1 university,” said Hill. “When human beings are involved with money and drugs, they'll do whatever it takes. You can corrupt the Pope with enough money. It's just human nature.

“Just look at that referee in the NBA who fixed those games,” Hill said. “They even have the referees in on it. Give me a break.”

The referee Hill refers to is Tim Donaghy, who officiated NBA games for 13 years, ending in 2007, when he was forced to resign due to reports from an FBI investigation, alleging that Donaghy bet on games that he officiated. There were also allegations that made calls specifically to impact the point spread.

In August of '07, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges and served time in prison.

“The FBI and the NBA both concluded that I used my knowledge of relationships and memos from the league office to place winning bets,” said Donaghy, author of Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked the NBA, a book about the scandal.

Donaghy, who was released from a Hernando County, FL jail on Nov. 4, 2009, says that in the world of collegiate athletics, “point-shaving goes on all the time.

“Many of these players are never going to get paid to play,” he explained. “They can win by 15 and not cover the spread and get paid for it. That's how these kids would think it's OK.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this happens every year,” continued Donaghy. “We will see this again soon. Sometimes you get caught and sometimes you don't.”

Two weeks after Donaghy made that statement to PSR, news broke of the University of San Diego scandal.

Ed McDonald, federal prosecutor in the Boston College scandal more than 30 years ago, is convinced not only that point-shaving continues to happen, but that no one—the NCAA nor the universities themselves—is doing much to stop it.

“Certainly the program is not going to enthusiastically try to sort out the wrong-doers and bring them to justice,” said McDonald. “The schools are going to want to cover it up and sweep it under the rug. If they have any sense, they are going to kick the kids out of school, and find some other reason or justification for doing it.

“My thought is that it probably happens,” continued McDonald. “Certainly the NCAA is not out there looking very hard to discover it.”


henry never gave any players drugs or any money. all he tried to do is make money by inside info that backfired on him when he claimed he could not get large enough bets down on the games. also he never threatened anyone as he was so out of it on coke and pills he could not even remember his own name. these are facts

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