Monday, May 16, 2011

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy's comments re: Gaming the Game

I have been (and, at least for the near future, remain) consumed with my responsibilities as the academic year comes to an end, and thus haven’t been available to humor each and every media request related to Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011).  In particular, I haven’t taken the time to explicitly examine or discuss former NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s public comments about the book (he has also contacted me privately a few times, and his statements are essentially the same as those available online).  I’ll try to address this briefly here, and will no doubt get into this in more detail later as time becomes more available. 

I need to state at the onset that according to Tim Donaghy he has not read - and does not plan to read - Gaming the Game, and thus whatever comments he has offered about the book are, themselves, not based on evidence (serious NBA betting scandal followers will note there is nothing new about this when it comes to Donaghy).

Donaghy wanted me (and others) to know that he has recently corresponded with scandal co-conspirator Tommy Martino - indeed, that they are “Facebook friends” – and especially that Martino supported Donaghy on a matter of primacy, namely about whether or not Donaghy waged successful bets with the third co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, on NBA games that Donaghy did not officiate.  This is significant, of course, because Donaghy claims that “inside information” (e.g., access to players, coaches, and other referees) accounted for his betting success, not Donaghy’s on-court behavior.  If true, it would make sense therefore if Donaghy’s bets were equally placed and equally successful on games he didn’t officiate.  If, instead, evidence exists illustrating that the bets from 2003 – 2006 (i.e., starting before Donaghy ever cut a deal with Battista and Martino) were exclusively on Donaghy’s games and/or what few bets placed by Donaghy in the 2006-07 season (with Martino and Battista) on NBA games he didn’t officiate were losers, Donaghy’s claims of “inside info” as the explanation for his betting success would be severely discredited.  In short, such evidence would strongly suggest that Donaghy influenced game outcomes with his on-court performance to advance his bets.   

Obviously, as someone who has been spent so much time studying the scandal (the project began in March 2008), this issue gets a lot of attention in Gaming the Game, but I’ll delve into this a little here in light of Donaghy’s recent comments. 

Tim Donaghy wants me and others to know that, although (like Donaghy) Martino says that he hasn’t read my book, Martino was recently quoted as follows: “We didn’t bet many games that Tim didn’t officiate…but when we did, Tim was very good at them also. Battista refused to take anymore of the games that weren’t Tim’s” (emphasis added).

There are so many things to write about these circumstances, but I’ll try to be as clear and concise as possible.

1. It is very interesting to see that Donaghy and Martino are apparently renewing their friendship.

For those who are unaware, Donaghy and Martino were very good friends for years (indeed, Donaghy has formerly referred to Martino as a “true friend”).  Casual NBA betting scandal observers may be confused right now, and are likely asking, “Wait a second - didn’t Tim Donaghy say that Tommy Martino was a ‘Gambino crime family member’ who extorted Donaghy by threatening to harm Donaghy’s wife and kids if Donaghy didn’t place bets with Martino and his childhood friend Jimmy Battista?!”  Uh, yes, Tim Donaghy did…when he was trying to sell a book (Note: Martino and Battista are the "members of the Gambino crime family"/"they"/"them" being referred to by Donaghy in this representative montage of his media appearances):

2. It is also noteworthy that Donaghy now wishes to treat Martino as a credible source of information. 

After all, this is the same Tommy Martino who, after admitting he perjured himself before the grand jury, visited with federal authorities on three occasions for proffer sessions in the hopes of backtracking his earlier false statements.  Such conferences are designed to offer criminal defendants opportunities to lessen the forthcoming harm facing them, and thus the prospective loss of freedom often results in remarkably candid conversations.  It was during these sessions that Martino offered authorities insights into all sorts of illicit activities, dating back to Martino’s early years as a low-level drug dealer.  It was also during these sessions that Martino explained his version of the NBA betting scandal, ranging from his involvement to win-loss records to payment amounts and locations, etc. 

In the context of Tim Donaghy now asking interested parties to believe Tommy Martino, let’s especially consider what Martino told the FBI during his proffer sessions.  You’ll easily note that Martino’s version of events on practically every matter of import contradicts Donaghy’s claims (and I predictably get much deeper into all of these matters in Gaming the Game).  Please note that quoted material is from confidential FBI memos summarizing Martino's statements:
  • "A meeting was set up between Martino, [Battista] and Donaghy at a restaurant at the Marriott Hotel in Philadelphia" on December 12, 2006 (i.e., Donaghy was aware of the Martino/Battista conference to address Donaghy's betting concerns and thus wasn't surprised or shocked - much less chilled or shaken - to meet with Martino and Battista, as Donaghy claims);
  • During the December 12, 2006 meeting, Donaghy "complained [to Martino] that [Donaghy’s golfing and gambling buddy Jack] Concannon was not giving him any money so he wanted to start giving [his NBA betting] picks to [Battista]" (i.e., the conspiracy didn’t begin as a mob extortion attempt of Donaghy, as Donaghy claims);
  • Martino paid Donaghy approximately $120,000 from December 2006 through April 2007 (i.e., Donaghy was paid roughly $100,000 more than Donaghy claims he received);
  • Martino provided Donaghy with prescription pills and the two "smoked pot together...on some occasions," and the longtime pals "used the services of prostitutes" on more than one occasion when they met for betting payments during the scandal.  Indeed, Martino detailed for the FBI the dates, cities, and the online service used to procure the women for himself and Donaghy (i.e., Donaghy was not in fear of "mobster" Martino, accounting for Donaghy's betting during the '06-07 season, as Donaghy claims);
  • When pro gambler Jimmy Battista entered drug rehab on March 18, 2007 to treat an addiction to prescription pills, the Donaghy/Martino scheme continued, but now with pro gambler Pete Ruggieri receiving the picks instead of Battista (i.e., Donaghy’s betting did not end on 3/18/07, as Donaghy claims); and
  • “After Ruggieri decided to shut the scheme down, Donaghy pushed Martino to take one more game” (i.e., Donaghy was not being forced to bet on his games by Battista and Martino throughout the '06-07 portion of the scandal, nor was Donaghy relieved the betting was over, as Donaghy claims).
3. Lastly, there is the recent Martino quote being circulated by Donaghy:

“We didn’t bet many games that Tim didn’t officiate…but when we did, Tim was very good at them also. Battista refused to take anymore of the games that weren’t Tim’s” (emphasis added).

If you simply look closely what Martino says, you’ll notice that it is counterintuitive even without my following commentary.  That is, why would Battista have stopped taking bets on NBA games not officiated by Tim Donaghy if they were winning at anywhere near the same rate as the picks on Donaghy’s games?  We are to believe that millions of dollars in sure winners were ignored by a pro gambler?  Really?  Fortunately, in addition to our common sense and intuition we can revisit what Tommy Martino told federal authorities when his freedom was in jeopardy.  An FBI memo summarizing Martino’s take on this matter succinctly states (emphasis added): “Occasionally, in the beginning, Donaghy provided picks for some games he was not refereeing.  After a few losses, though, [Battista] did not want any more of those games.

There is much more information than this offered by Martino (and by others, including fellow cooperating government witnesses) which directly contradicts many Donaghy claims.  A thorough assessment of the FBI’s probe allows readers to understand why federal authorities never mentioned organized crime in the months and months of scandal goings-on, why Battista and Martino were never charged with extortion…and why federal officials with direct knowledge of the scandal cases discredit much of what Donaghy claims following his stint in prison.  These officials, of course, have already experienced first-hand Donaghy’s repeated efforts to minimize his culpability and to exaggerate his cooperation with the government.

I should note in closing that it is quite possible that neither Tim Donaghy nor Tommy Martino has read Gaming the Game (as each man claims), because their comments to date about its contents are wildly misinformed.  Especially off the mark are their assertions that the book relies largely on the words of Jimmy Battista.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as noted by several reviewers.  For example, it has been said that Gaming the Game is not a sympathetic portrait of Battista (see, e.g., here), and the book has been praised for its “exhaustive"/"impeccable" research (see, e.g., here, here, or here).  This critical acclaim is very much appreciated and is the result of two-plus years of study which included dozens of interviews of relevant persons such as local and federal law enforcement officials (investigators and prosecutors), defense attorneys, professional gamblers (and their “employees”), journalists, and scholars.  More importantly, especially with regard to the NBA betting scandal, Gaming the Game – like the rest of my published research - relies upon a wealth of confidential law enforcement files, court documents, and news articles (betting line data and electronic betting records were also obtained and analyzed).

[As mentioned above, I'll have likely have more to say about Tim Donaghy's recent comments and activities in the near future as time becomes available.]

Why I never attempted interviewing Tim Donaghy

“Why didn’t you try to interview Tim Donaghy?”  

I have been asked this (perfectly fair) question many times in the past month or so while discussing my new book which features a detailed examination of the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal, and will humor answering it more fully here for others to reference.

As I explain in Gaming the Game, at the onset of the research in March 2008, I planned to attempt interviewing the former NBA referee.  In time, however, I discovered how many demonstrably false claims Donaghy has made, and decided against trying to contact him.    

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary offers the following definitions of “lie”:
1a. an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive;
1b. an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker;
2. something that misleads or deceives
You’ll easily note that the key distinction between “1a” and the other definitions of “lie” concerns the mindset of the speaker.  Using the lesser standards (i.e., “1b” and “2”), Tim Donaghy is without doubt a pathological liar. 

The stricter standard (“1a”) requires us to determine whether Donaghy believes all of the falsehoods he has repeatedly stated and whether he intends to deceive.  When researching the scandal, I – like the federal authorities who investigated his claims – saw little value in taking the time to assess his state of mind and merely cared if his assertions were valid and supported by the evidence.  Some may recall what the lead prosecutor told the court about Donaghy’s myriad claims (that consumed the resources of the FBI at who knows what taxpayer expense, incidentally):
“…we’ve never taken the position that Mr. Donaghy has lied to us.  But, there is a difference between telling the truth and believing you’re telling the truth and finding out later that a number of allegations don’t hold any water” (emphasis added).
Of course, there are still many Donaghy whoppers made after his release from prison (when he began straying even further from the facts, most likely to sell books and/or excuse his prior behavior) that Donaghy certainly knows are not true, led perhaps by his repeated statements that his longtime “true friend” Tommy Martino was/is a member of organized crime (see below and elsewhere).  As to whether Donaghy believes the numerous other factually-untrue statements uttered and/or penned by him, here is my brief analysis of the matter.

As I explained to an online publication recently about not trying to interview Donaghy for Gaming the Game, “Importantly, by the time Donaghy was released from prison in late 2009 and ostensibly available for an interview, I was deep into the project and knew there were significant flaws in what he had told federal authorities.  Of course, I had also interviewed those persons who investigated and prosecuted him, including one federal official who, since the earliest days of dealing with Donaghy, considered the former NBA referee to be ‘deranged’ and someone who ‘believes the world is against him.’  Another federal official called Donaghy ‘a fucking loose cannon.’”  These are in addition to other interview subjects who have known Donaghy over the years who expressed similar sentiments.  As such, I suppose it is conceivable that Tim Donaghy actually believes some of the things he says which are nevertheless downright silly when measured against the evidence.  Regardless of his mindset and motivations, Tim Donaghy is a dubious source to be sure.  Here is some more related commentary for interested parties…

Gaming the Game readers will note that for the most part I do not get into the more personal aspects of the NBA betting scandal co-conspirators’ lives.  What little material that appears in the book in this regard is offered only to explain the sociology of the conspiracy and to understand how these personal matters impacted the decision-making of various parties during the conspiracy and throughout the criminal justice process.  Regarding the former concern, for instance, their backgrounds and relationships mattered in the context of addressing whether this was a mob-orchestrated extortion scheme, as Donaghy claims, or rather if it was simply a matter of longtime and mutual pals getting together to make easy money, as Martino and Battista insist.  With respect to the latter concern, personal issues impacted all sorts of things:
(a)    during the conspiracy (e.g., What accounted for Battista living temporarily in Martino’s home, which ultimately greased the wheels for the conspiracy with Donaghy?  Was Donaghy, as he claims, a mob extortion victim in fear of his life from “Gambino crime family members” Tommy Martino and Jimmy Battista or instead, as fellow cooperating witness Martino expressed to the FBI, was Donaghy partying it up – complete with drug use and prostitutes obtained from an online service - with his longtime buddy Tommy when they met for payments during the scandal - and pleading with Martino to keep the scheme going when Donaghy was informed by Martino that it was being shut down?); and
(b)    during the criminal justice proceedings (e.g., Why didn’t federal authorities buy Donaghy’s story about not fixing games and instead fight with him, insisting he admit he may have at the least subconsciously altered games before agreeing to sign off on a plea deal with him?  What off-the-court actions almost cost Donaghy his job as an NBA referee in 2005, and how might these and other related behavioral issues have impacted a jury trial with him as the lead witness - and with his testimony as the key evidence - in the scandal cases?)

Casual NBA betting scandal followers, especially those located outside the Philadelphia area, may be unaware of Tim Donaghy’s troubling reputation among those who knew him throughout his life.  For example, in July 2008 as Donaghy awaited sentencing (i.e., at a time when most criminal defendants can expect others who know them to say things like, “I can’t believe what he admitted to/has been convicted of doing; that seems so unlike him” or “He’s such a great person” or “I feel so bad for him” and the like), Donaghy’s hometown newspaper wrote:
“every teammate, classmate, or associate contacted…by the [Delco] Daily Times either chose not to comment on Donaghy or didn’t return phone calls…While there are those empathetic to Donaghy and his gambling-related plight, many others consider his a karmic downfall.”1 
National writers have heard similar assessments of Donaghy, including Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, who wrote:
“several sources described him as fairly unpopular with his peers, past and present…From his Philly basketball roots to his peers in the NBA, Donaghy isn’t described with much affection.”
Now that my findings have been published (in the book and elsewhere; see, e.g., my blogs here and here), Donaghy has engaged in behavior patterns that have characterized much of his adult life.  For example, when a prominent and well-regarded sports journalist recently pointed his readers and viewers to my work and offered his praise for my carefully-documented research, Tim Donaghy publicly smeared the commentator as “a nasty drunk” who “had a major problem with the booze” and who was “fired” from a newspaper career (as is standard Donaghy fare by now, all of these assertions are of course without a hint of supporting evidence).  

Similarly, when two of Philadelphia’s most highly-regarded sports journalists appeared with me on a popular area television sports program to discuss Gaming the Game, Donaghy was true to form with his response.  Stan Hochman is a legendary, award-winning sportswriter who has, among other things, written for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1959, and who has been inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.  Hochman reviewed Gaming the Game for the Daily News, in part stating that the book is not a sympathetic portrait of Jimmy Battista, that it is “intriguing,” and that it “offers a fascinating look into the Donaghy scandal.”2  Dick Jerardi is also an award-winning sportswriter for the Daily News, who has been described as “one of the leading basketball reporters in the country” (in fact, he formerly served as president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).  Interestingly, Jerardi penned a lengthy (and I think most would say “positive”) piece on Donaghy’s father, Gerry, an admired and respected former NCAA referee, during the newspaper's comprehensive NBA betting scandal coverage.  Like Hochman, Jerardi was very familiar with my two-plus years of research, and thus he appeared on the program to discuss the book.  Despite the seriousness with which the material was treated by each panelist, Donaghy – as is his nature – publicly said, without ever seeing or hearing the program – and still without having read the book and without reviewing its considerable documentation, “They are all full of shit.”

I am also aware of Donaghy phoning others with whom he disagrees and harassing them, especially if they have publicly discussed (or have otherwise been involved with) my research.

Tim Donaghy’s recent statements and actions perfectly confirm what informed persons described to me during the project, and they validate my decision not to attempt interviewing him.  He is a source lacking credibility…and a lot more.

1. Anthony J. SanFilippo, “Donaghy’s downfall leaves many scars,” Delco Times, July 6, 2008 (not available online).
2. Other published reviews have similarly stated that Gaming the Game is not particularly kind to former pro gambler Jimmy Battista, and have praised the book for its “exhaustive"/"impeccable" research.  For reviews of Gaming the Game, please see here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Las Vegas Review-Journal review of Gaming the Game

The latest review of Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011) was penned by John L. Smith and appears today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

For previous reviews of Gaming the Game, please see here.