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Authorities: Former ref bet on games since '03, took payoffs
Tim Donaghy faces a maximum of 25 years in prision.
NEW YORK -- Tim Donaghy started making NBA bets four years ago, and he didn't hesitate to wager on games he worked.
Speaking in code during telephone calls, he tipped off high-stakes gamblers with inside information and recommended which teams to bet on. When his picks hit, he was paid $5,000.
The stunning allegations emerged Wednesday as the disgraced former NBA referee pleaded guilty to two felony charges in a scandal that rocked the league and tarnished the integrity of the sport.
"By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games," Donaghy, standing ramrod-straight with his hands clasped in front of him, told the judge in a Brooklyn courtroom.
Donaghy, who was released on $250,000 bond, faces a maximum of 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 9 for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce. He also must pay a $500,000 fine and at least $30,000 in restitution to the government.
Commissioner David Stern said the NBA would "continue with our ongoing and thorough review of the league's officiating program to ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place to protect the integrity of our game."
Defense attorney John Lauro told The Associated Press that Donaghy was "relieved this part of the proceeding is over and we look forward to completely resolving this matter in the coming months."
"Tim deeply regrets his involvement in this matter and especially the pain it has caused his family, friends and co-workers," Lauro said.
The plea had been widely expected in recent weeks, but court documents released Wednesday revealed new details about the depth of the scandal.
Court papers say the 40-year-old Donaghy began placing bets on NBA games in 2003. Starting last December, he began giving gambling associates sensitive information, including which crews would officiate games and how the various officials and players interacted.
His actions "compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games," the government said.
It was highly lucrative for Donaghy. While in Toronto, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., to referee games earlier this year, Donaghy received thousands of dollars in cash payoffs from the gamblers, authorities said.
They did not spell out specific games that Donaghy officiated and placed bets on, nor would they say if he made calls during the game to help a team cover the spread.
In one exchange, according to court papers, Donaghy provided a tip about an NBA game on Dec. 13, 2006. That same day, he worked a 76ers game in Philadelphia against the Boston Celtics.
The next day, Donaghy met with the gamblers in Pennsylvania and received a cash payment, authorities say. A person close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing, said the payment was for a successful tip on the 76ers-Celtics game.
The point spread moved two points before the game went off the board -- a fairly significant swing -- with Boston going from a 11/2-point favorite to a 31/2-point choice. Boston won by 20.
The two alleged co-conspirators, identified by prosecutors as James Battista, a professional gambler with the nicknames "Baba" and "Sheep," and Thomas Martino, also appeared in court Wednesday. They were ordered released on $250,000 bond after their arraignment on charges of conspiracy to defraud the NBA.
Battista's lawyer, Jack McMahon, said a grand jury is expected to hear the case and, if indicted, his client intends to plead innocent.
"Mr. Donaghy walked away with a nice situation for himself. He is the linchpin and he seems to have worked his way into a nice situation," McMahon said. "I don't know if that is fair."
The betting scheme was uncovered during an investigation into the Gambino crime family in Brooklyn. None of the defendants in this case was charged with organized crime affiliation.
"He has no more association with an organized crime family than me, and I'm not associated with any organized crime," said McMahon, Battista's lawyer.
Stern said last month that the FBI first contacted the NBA on June 20 to talk about a referee alleged to be gambling on games, and Donaghy resigned July 9 after 13 years as an official. Stern said he would have fired him sooner but was told it might affect the investigation.
Stern blamed a "rogue, isolated criminal" for a scandal that threatened the credibility of every referee. But players are trying not to get too caught up in it.
"Honestly, I don't think anybody's thinking about it. Us players, we haven't discussed it," superstar Kobe Bryant said. "It's not something that's on the radar for us. We know that the commissioner and the league and whoever else is handling the situation, they're going to take care of it, so we don't have much to worry about."
Donaghy, who earned $260,000 last year, was rated in the top tier of officials, and there was nothing suspicious about the frequency of his foul calls, Stern said.