COLUMBIA — The attorney at the center of the NCAA’s potentially damaged University of Miami investigation spoke out Thursday in her defense.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Miami-based lawyer Maria Elena Perez, who represented imprisoned booster Nevin Shapiro and was said to have been paid by the NCAA to obtain information in its case, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she has done nothing wrong.
“I think this is completely insane,” Perez told the Sun-Sentinel. “I think there’s absolutely nothing here to investigate, and like I told everyone, everything I did was above board.”
Perez’s statement came a day after NCAA president Mark Emmert announced he was putting the Miami investigation — which includes allegations against Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith — on hold because of what he said was “a very severe case” of improper conduct by its own rules enforcement staff.
Emmert said the NCAA discovered investigators gained information through Shapiro’s defense attorney during his bankruptcy proceedings. The NCAA cannot subpoena witnesses and Emmert said Wednesday that the NCAA can’t bring forth allegations using information its investigators should not have obtained.
On Thursday, Emmert denied reports that his general counsel’s office approved the use of Shapiro’s attorney in the Miami case.
Perez told the Sun-Sentinel that the NCAA paid her a small amount of money for her services but said she did not consider herself a member of the NCAA’s legal team.
“At the end of the day, that does not establish an attorney-client relationship between me and the NCAA,” said Perez, who did not explain what she was exactly paid for. “It establishes that they wanted to pay for certain things to help Shapiro where there were issues of common interest. Period. There’s nothing wrong with that. They didn’t pay me to get testimony. They didn’t pay me to get a story. There’s a huge difference.”
CBSSports.com reported Monday that Haith was expected to soon face NCAA charges for unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance that could land him a show-cause penalty. Shapiro, in an April 2011 Yahoo! Sports report, accused Haith of being complicit in a $10,000 payment to Miami recruit DeQuan Jones.
The NCAA did not disclose what information was obtained improperly, but Perez told the Associated Press on Thursday the NCAA had representatives at two depositions in Shapiro’s bankruptcy case. She told the Sun-Sentinel that Sean Allen, a former Miami football equipment manager, and Michael Huyghue, an attorney who founded a sports agency that Shaprio joined, “couldn’t remember anything.”
“So there’s absolutely nothing that they can glean from them,” Perez said. “So I don’t know how two 2004 examinations can taint an entire investigation that is so far gone at this point.”
Legal experts believe the NCAA’s admission of misconduct can only help Haith, who could still be served with a notice of allegations but can question the credibility of the NCAA enforcement staff if he goes before the infractions committee, which would decide his fate.
When asked for his thoughts Thursday, Haith remained tight-lipped.
“I’m going to say even less than I did before,” Haith said. “I’m saying nothing.”