The Criminal Justice Response to the NBA Betting Scandal: A Timeline
Though some of what has been previously reported is accurate, at best the existing public record vis-à-vis the criminal justice response to the NBA betting scandal is remarkably superficial (in part because there was heretofore no knowledge of the FBI’s activities specifically concerning the scheme’s architect, Jimmy Battista). Here, then, is a comprehensive timeline for the federal government’s actions in re: the ’06-’07 NBA scandal and its three primary conspirators (pro gambler Jimmy Battista, referee Tim Donaghy, and mutual pal and intermediary Tommy Martino).* [Note: Links to publicly-accessible official documents are posted here.]
Early (Jan-March) 2007:
- The FBI receives “information that Battista was engaged in betting large amounts of money on NBA basketball games and was receiving assistance from an NBA referee in determining his bets.”
- The phone records of Joseph “Joe Vito” Mastronardo, one of the East Coast’s most significant bookmakers and bettors and a longtime Battista associate/partner, are subpoenaed.
- Donaghy’s phone records are subpoenaed.
- The FBI visits Battista at his home in the first of several, ultimately unsuccessful, efforts over the following weeks and months to procure his cooperation in their burgeoning investigation of big-time offshore betting. Agents also press the recently-“retired” pro gambler for insights into the “inside information” for which he is known to obtain and traffic among the pro gambling crowd.
- The FBI visits Martino, a mutual and close friend of Battista and of Donaghy, for the first of a few such encounters. Unlike Battista, Martino humors the FBI’s inquiries and offers half-truths – and worse – during his encounters with federal agents, setting the stage for his perjurious grand jury appearance a few weeks hence.
- On May 30th, Martino appears before the grand jury convened in the Eastern District of New York (housed in Brooklyn) and commits perjury. Soon thereafter, Martino calls Donaghy to inform him of the federal investigation and of the grand jury convening in New York. It is the first Donaghy is hearing of the investigation that has been gaining steam for months.
- On June 15th, Donaghy meets with federal officials in New York for his first proffer session (where subjects and targets of investigations offer information to authorities in the hopes of obtaining beneficial plea agreements, immunity against prosecution, etc.).
- On June 20th, the FBI informs the NBA’s Senior Vice President of Security (and former FBI agent) Bernie Tolbert about the betting scandal investigation.
- On June 21st, NBA Commissioner David Stern and other league executives meet with the FBI, where they are told that 13-year veteran referee Donaghy bet on NBA games, including games he officiated.
- On July 20th, the investigation is exposed in a New York Post article (“NBA in a ‘Fix’”).
- On July 22nd, the FBI meets with pro gambler Pete Ruggieri in attorney Christopher Warren’s Center City Philadelphia office. Ruggieri, Warren explains to the press roughly a week later, told the FBI that he copied the ridiculously successful bets placed on games Donaghy officiated (first placed by mutual friend Jack Concannon, and then by mutual associate Battista).
- On July 26th, Martino meets with federal officials for the first of ultimately three proffer sessions in the hopes of backtracking his earlier false statements to the FBI and to the grand jury. Unlike those of his close friend and co-conspirator Donaghy, Martino’s proffer efforts do not result in the desired outcome (i.e., the government does not agree to argue for a “downward departure” from the sentencing guidelines in consideration of Martino’s cooperation).
- On August 15th, following four proffer sessions with authorities dating to June 15th, Donaghy pleads guilty to two felonies: conspiring to commit wire fraud, and conspiring to transmit gambling information across state lines. Battista and Martino are arraigned on wire fraud charges moments after Donaghy’s guilty plea.
- On February 8th, Battista and Martino are indicted. Each is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit wagering information across state lines. Martino is also charged with two counts of perjury for his false statements before the grand jury. Each man is facing up to twenty years in prison on the gambling charges, with Martino facing an additional ten years total for the perjury counts against him.
- On April 16th, Martino pleads guilty to wire fraud, with authorities dropping the remaining charges (two for perjury, and one for transmitting wagering information).
- On April 24th, Battista pleads guilty to transmitting wagering information, with authorities dropping the wire fraud charge.
- On May 8th, the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) files a “5K1” letter in support of a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines for Donaghy because of his cooperation. As per standard protocol, the letter is filed under seal, in large part because such letters contain sensitive information and their contents can harm various parties, including and especially the cooperator (who could face retaliation if it becomes known against whom s/he is informing).
- On May 16th, the USAO files a “loss letter”, estimating the loss to the victim (i.e., the NBA). The loss estimate is not only relevant in re: a defendant’s restitution situation, it is a key driver in the sentencing of offenders such as Donaghy. The government estimates the NBA’s loss at just over $300,000 – almost eight times what Donaghy’s defense team has previously argued.
- On May 19th (the next business day following the USAO’s damning loss letter filing), Donaghy’s attorney files a letter with the court objecting to the USAO’s 5K letter being under seal. Of note, the letter states, “We strongly object to this letter being filed under seal. We have been advised by the government that it has concluded its investigation into this matter, and therefore there is no reason to file this letter under seal. Moreover, the government made no showing whatsoever under established case law that such a communication should be kept from the public. Finally, we respectfully request that there be full transparency in the sentencing process.” Observers note these arguments were not made until the USAO’s (significant) loss estimate was submitted to the court. Perhaps relating to this latter point…
- On May 19th, Donaghy’s attorney also files a 27-page letter which includes an objection to the government’s loss calculation among other items. The letter criticizes the government’s plea deals with Battista and Martino as too lenient compared to Donaghy’s agreement, and offers a hypothesis which suggests the NBA may have “pressured the USAO into shutting down this prosecution to avoid the disclosure of information related to Tim’s conduct…” The letter notes that Donaghy is a “pathological gambler” and yet claims Donaghy bet on NBA games at first because Concannon “pressured” Donaghy and then because Battista “threatened” him. Regarding the latter “threat” claim, Donaghy’s attorney references an alleged organized crime connection no less than five times in the letter – in other words, five times more than the federal government has mentioned/will mention any role of organized crime in the months of scandal-related filings and utterances. The letter also argues that the government did not advise the court sufficiently about Donaghy’s cooperation regarding various NBA matters Donaghy alleged were dubious. According to his attorney, Donaghy “furnished information concerning circumstances that favored certain players or teams over others” and explained to authorities that “particular relationships between officials and coaches or players affected the outcome of games, and other practices prevented games from being played on a level playing field.”
- On May 29th, the USAO files its consent to having Donaghy’s 5K letter unsealed.
- On June 2nd, U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon orders Donaghy’s 5K letter unsealed in consideration of the earlier motions.
- On June 5th, the NBA, as victim in the scandal, submits its loss estimate – an astounding $1 million.
- On June 10th, Donaghy’s attorney submits a letter taking exception to the NBA’s loss submission. Of note, the letter states, “The NBA’s $1 million demand, interestingly, came immediately after Mr. Donaghy raised issues concerning the Government’s conduct in this case, and the possible influence exerted by the NBA herein.”
- On June 10th, Donaghy’s attorney also submits a letter pointing to Donaghy’s supposed assistance to authorities regarding alleged game manipulation by other referees during two playoff series which had already been the subject of considerable public debate and conspiracy theorizing.
- On June 20th, the NBA responds to the court’s request for a more specific loss figure and submits an exact number of $1,395,104.89.
- On June 27th, the USAO files another letter with the court regarding the issue of loss/restitution (and the government’s figure is still light years away from Donaghy’s estimate).
- On June 27th, the USAO also files a letter re: Donaghy’s cooperation which states that Donaghy has exaggerated his cooperation [regarding supposed criminal activities among other NBA personnel] while minimizing his role in the betting scheme. Indeed, the letter states, “the activities involving the NBA that Donaghy discusses…are not a proper consideration [for a reduction in sentencing] because further investigation by the government of these alleged activities did not lead to evidence of prosecutable federal offenses.” Regarding Donaghy’s myriad claims and allegations, the Assistant U.S. Attorney leading the prosecution soon tells the court, “A lot of it was unsubstantiated, and that’s important. So, 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.”
- On July 7th, the USAO submits yet another letter re: loss/restitution, this time in particular consideration of the NBA’s $1.4 million argument. The USAO revises its loss estimate to $233,317 (still many times more than Donaghy’s estimate of $46,240).
- On July 23rd, Judge Amon sentences Battista to 15 months (and Martino to 12 months) in prison.
- On July 23rd, Judge Amon also rules on restitution, concluding the amount collectively owed to the NBA by the three conspirators is $217,266.94. Of note, particularly when assessing Donaghy’s claim he was threatened – perhaps with the involvement of organized crime (which was repeated and amplified by Donaghy during the sentencing phase of the case), Amon writes, “In December of 2006, defendants James Battista and Thomas Martino approached Donaghy and informed him that they were aware that he had been placing bets on NBA games, including games he had refereed. Battista proposed an arrangement whereby Donaghy would provide picks on NBA games to Battista through Martino” (emphasis added). Judge Amon’s summary follows the government’s earlier statement on the matter, which says that Donaghy “has never taken the position that he was anything other than a willing participant in the scheme with Battista and Martino, and, before them, with Jack Concannon.”
- On July 29th, Judge Amon sentences Donaghy to 15 months in prison. Of note, Amon says she has found “no bad faith on the part of the government in concluding that the information provided by Mr. Donaghy was not sufficient to develop further prosecution” regarding Donaghy’s NBA conspiracy claims and that the “speculation of [Donaghy’s] counsel in letters to this Court that the information was not pursued because of the NBA’s influence on the government is just that, completely unfounded speculation.”
*I should note that compared to the broader interpretation of the NBA betting scandal, the reporting on criminal justice-specific matters was on the mark! That is, the existing (February 2011) common understanding of the scandal is grossly misinformed and wildly inaccurate – from the genesis of the scandal to the sociology of the betting to the dollar figures involved to the complexities of the FBI’s investigation to the decisions made by various parties during the investigation and prosecution phases (not to mention that the media never understood this was all part of a large – and still ongoing – federal investigation into big-time, offshore sports betting). For insights into these matters and more, interested parties should see Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011).