COLUMBIA — Three weeks after acknowledging unprecedented improper conduct by its enforcement staff, the NCAA announced Monday that an external review had uncovered a messy trail of missteps and insufficient oversight during its botched investigation of the University of Miami.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
The review, conducted by the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft at the request of NCAA President Mark Emmert, found that members of the NCAA’s enforcement staff overstepped their authority in building a case that involves former Miami men’s basketball coach Frank Haith, who now coaches at Missouri.
About 20 percent of the information gathered during the Miami investigation was tainted and will be abandoned, said Kenneth Wainstein, who led the review.
“This is an outcome no one wants to see on their watch, or anyone else’s,” Emmert said in a teleconference Monday. “This is something that is an embarrassment to the association and our staff.”
Where Monday’s findings leave Haith is uncertain. Imprisoned Miami booster Nevin Shapiro has said that Haith was complicit in a $10,000 payment to DeQuan Jones, an athlete Haith had recruited.
Citing an anonymous source, CBSSports.com reported last month that Haith was expected to face NCAA charges for unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance while at Miami.
Haith has denied knowledge of an illicit payment, as has Jones’ family. It is unclear how much, if any, of the evidence that remains in the Miami case relates to Haith.
On Monday, Haith said the NCAA has not contacted him since the end of the external review. But The Associated Press reported that Miami officials expect to receive their notice of allegations as soon as today.
“It’s certainly not the position the NCAA wants to be with in regards to an active investigation,” Jo Potuto, the faculty athletics representative at Nebraska, said of the situation.
“It’s not a happy day for the NCAA. There is no silver lining in this,” said Potuto, who served three terms on the NCAA’s infractions committee.
The NCAA has disclosed that enforcement staffers, who have since left the organization, paid Maria Elena Perez, Shapiro’s defense lawyer, more than $19,000 to improperly obtain information through two depositions taken as part of federal bankruptcy proceedings.
The NCAA does not have subpoena power, and the information it received through the bankruptcy case would not have been available to its staff if it hadn’t enlisted the help of Shapiro’s lawyer.
Wainstein said his firm’s review included interviews with 22 people, including former enforcement staffers and Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year jail term for organizing a $930 million Ponzi scheme. Shapiro is accused of giving hundreds of thousands of dollars and other benefits to Miami student-athletes.
As a result of the investigation, Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement, was fired Monday. Lach was dismissed for helping NCAA staffers pay off Shapiro’s lawyer. Emmert would not comment on Roe Lach’s dismissal but has appointed Jonathan Duncan to fill her position on an interim basis.
“For an organization with an oversight function like the NCAA, its credibility and reputation for fair dealing are always more important than its ability to prove the allegations in any particular case,” Wainstein said in a statement. “This episode is a reminder of the problems that arise when investigators resort to expedient but questionable tactics.”
According to Wainstein’s report, Perez offered to help the NCAA by “using bankruptcy subpoenas to compel depositions from witnesses who had refused to cooperate.” The NCAA, in turn, gave Perez specific questions to ask.
Perez billed the NCAA for $57,115 worth of work performed from October 2011 through July 2012, the report and other documents show, though NCAA officials were expecting the amount of her work to cost roughly $15,000.
The report also stated that Rich Johanningmeier, then the NCAA’s associate director of enforcement, bought a prepaid cellphone and paid for Shapiro’s prison calls. The NCAA spent about $8,200 “to fund communications with Mr. Shapiro, including transfers of approximately $4,500 to his prison commissary account.”
Calling the NCAA’s investigation “unprofessional and unethical,” Miami President Donna Shalala lashed out Monday at the governing body for college athletics, insisting that its long investigation of the Hurricanes should end with no other penalties against the university.
Miami had already voluntarily forfeited the right to appear in two bowl games, along with one trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, up to 30 practices and an undisclosed number of scholarships.
“We have been wronged,” Shalala said in a statement.
“Sadly the NCAA has not lived up to their own core principles. The lengthy and already flawed investigation has demonstrated a disappointing pattern of unprofessional and unethical behavior. By the NCAA leadership’s own admission, the University of Miami has suffered from inappropriate practices by NCAA staff.”
Yet despite the apparent warts in the NCAA’s investigation — and based on Wainstein’s review, there were plenty — Emmert made it clear that those implicated in the Miami inquiry weren’t out of the woods yet.
“The intention is to move forward with this case,” Emmert said. “There is still a lot of information that’s available that has in no way been tainted by this incident.” If Haith and others implicated in the Miami investigation receive notices of allegations, they would have 90 days to respond in writing before a hearing is set before the NCAA’s infractions committee.
“It will be up to the Committee on Infractions … to determine the validity of the arguments that will be put in front of them,” Emmert said.
Emmert was asked multiple times in Monday’s teleconference whether he should bear any personal accountability for the enforcement fiasco, considering the NCAA holds coaches responsible for improprieties that occur on their watches.
The NCAA has dealt with a number of sticky situations recently. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett last month sued the organization over its handling of the Penn State sex-abuse case and subsequent punishment of the university. Criticism also followed cases involving UCLA, the University of Southern California and the University of North Carolina.
“I report to the executive committee,” Emmert said. “They have received this report. If they believe actions should be taken toward me or anyone else in the organization, they are free to do that.”