Thoughts on the Whistleblower podcast thru Episode 5
Disclosures: I was interviewed for the better part of a day as part of the podcast, and some of my work is discussed in Episodes 2 and 3 and is featured exclusively in the bonus segment “Head Fakes”. Producer Tim Livingston has been generous with his time, and has graciously listened to my criticisms of the finished product (some of which appear below).
The main takeaway so far is that there is nothing substantively new to anyone who has read Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen or who has followed my ongoing coverage of the scandal with one exception I’ll get to shortly. Interestingly, many previously known aspects of the scandal are presented as new; I’ll touch on a few of these in the “Miscellany” section of analysis below.
The first five episodes focus on – and rely heavily upon – former NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Indeed, the entire premise of the podcast so far is based on claims made by Donaghy – a disturbed career con, pathological liar, and more. We are treated to many of Donaghy’s Greatest Hits (once more!) on the usual subjects (off the top of my head; all falsehoods I debunked years ago, by the way):
- Only bet on his games – did not fix them; used “inside info” to bet
- NBA and FBI investigated and concluded he did not fix games
- He wanted to stop betting on his games in Fall 2006 but he was threatened into continuing
- NBA’s culture of officiating is the problem (not his on-court actions)
I’ll offer my commentary on the podcast below in sections: Donaghy’s evolving stories, Martino’s confession, and Miscellany.
Donaghy’s evolving stories
Donaghy’s story has evolved in at least two significant ways since his 2009 public relations blitzkrieg, and the Whistleblower podcast evidences his latest changes. Unfortunately, the podcast doesn’t even acknowledge this evolution let alone highlight the significance of what he is telling the audience.
I’ll address the less consequential change first.
(1) In 2009, Donaghy was interviewed dozens of times in all forms of media. Donaghy’s credibility enhancement was such a goal for Donaghy post-prison that hosts/interviewers were scripted to ask him why people should believe him so that Donaghy could then offer a version of this standard reply about Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Phil Scala and the broader FBI: “The FBI stands behind everything in/stands behind every story in/fully supports the book.” Here is a montage of Donaghy stating this during media interviews:
Needless to say, as I and others have noted, the FBI doesn’t vet the manuscripts of ex-cons. Additionally, in the months and years following Donaghy making these absurd claims, Scala has explicitly rejected several key Donaghy claims. Well, in a current Whistleblower episode, we are treated to a far more neutered version of these Donaghy assertions. Gone is the ridiculous claim “The FBI” vetted his book and stands behind it, etc., and with respect to Mr. Scala’s supposed absolute support, Donaghy now meekly says (emphasis added), “Phil Scala of the FBI kind of supported me in a way even though I did something wrong.”
(2) Also starting in 2009, Donaghy claimed his lifelong best friend Tommy Martino and Martino’s good friend pro gambler Jimmy Battista were “petty thugs” who were “members/associates” of the Gambino Crime Family who threatened Donaghy and his family. Here is a montage of Donaghy stating this during media interviews:
I have chronicled and debunked all of this on numerous occasions, but some in the media and in the public are obsessed with evidence-free sensationalism, especially when it comes to anything supposedly involving organized crime (my primary research area, btw). Whistleblower listeners might be reading this and wondering, “Wait? You mean the same Tommy Martino who is featured in the podcast, often together WITH Donaghy?” Yes, that Tommy Martino. We are only through Episode 5, so let’s hope Martino and Donaghy are asked to explain the many curiosities of their relationship the last decade. For example, was Martino paid to stay quiet as his friend Donaghy (for self-serving reasons) told the world he was a mobster who threatened Donaghy and his family? What was Tommy thinking and feeling when his best friend assailed his character, lying about his role in organized crime? Why did Donaghy lie about this? Didn’t it trouble his conscience doing this to such a close friend?
Donaghy changed his story re Martino and the mob in 2019, when Martino needed lifelong pal Donaghy to assist in various business ventures (more here). The two men appeared in media together (just like in this podcast), and the story evolved with Donaghy now divorcing Martino from his mob claims, leaving Battista as the lone mobster in Donaghy’s fairy tale. More questions which have yet to be asked in the podcast – Is Donaghy now admitting he lied for a decade? When and how was this decision made re changing his story?
What little news was made through the first five episodes of the podcast concerns Tommy Martino speaking about one of the pre-eminent issues of the scandal, namely whether Donaghy was threatened by pro gambler Jimmy Battista in December 2006. In essence, Martino finally admitted what many knew or suspected, namely that Martino has been lying for the last decade to support his best friend Donaghy, who has been lying about Battista threatening him. I have posted a distinct analysis about this, complete with audio, here. Aside: it is fascinating and curious the producers of the podcast have not hyped this revelation.
As Whistleblower listeners and my audiences know, Martino also says – on repeated occasions – Donaghy is lying about other consequential matters. Readers of Gaming the Game know government cooperator Martino said much the same to the FBI during his 2007 proffer sessions. Let’s hope that in addition to the serious questions yet unasked above (especially given the extraordinary access to these men over days, alone and together) we get to hear Donaghy confronted with his best friend Martino’s damning comments.
(NOTE: I am not analyzing each and every comment or decision made on the podcast or this would be a short book! My comments are not remotely exhaustive)
Lifelong friendship between Martino and Donaghy, behaviors during scandal
This isn’t newsworthy, other than for members of the public and media who have not yet realized that in his book and/or media tour (for various self-serving reasons) Donaghy described Martino as a “petty thug” (as noted above) and as a “mid-to-low-level goombah” who is a Gambino Crime Family member/associate who threatened him. Martino, for reasons we can guess, permitted Donaghy to promulgate these absurdities for a decade. In the podcast, we are treated to various insights of their friendship from childhood through today. Importantly, by getting Martino to describe the activities the men were engaged in throughout the NBA betting scandal, producer Livingston does a good job deconstructing the self-serving Donaghy lie he was in fear of his life.
Here is Martino briefly explaining their activities during the scandal. WARNING: Explicit content.
Gaming the Game readers are already aware of such matters, of course, partly because government cooperator Martino described most of these activities and more in detail to the FBI. For example (and these are not discussed in the podcast), Martino described the website he and Donaghy used to procure prostitutes in Toronto and Washington, D.C., as well as his role in the local drug trade as a low-level dealer. It is unclear if the producers are aware of what I am describing, just as there is no sense they are aware the podcast offers Martino version of events “5.0”. Martino 5.0 is a blend of versions 2.0 (his 2007 proffer sessions) and 4.0 (his 2019 media tour).
Donaghy’s temperament and personality
Then there is the issue of Tim Donaghy’s temperament and personality. The podcast offers further confirmation of Donaghy’s disturbing personality, which impacted the federal probe into the betting scandal in various ways. Tommy Martino’s father, Charles, is interviewed (Ep.4) and says of Donaghy, “Timmy…(had) a very short temper and a penchant for wanting to get revenge for anything that he perceived as having been done to him where he was wrong.”
I have described this about Donaghy in detail many times, including the ways in which it impacted the federal investigation and prosecution. Related to this – even though it may not seem so as presented in the podcast – is Donaghy’s odd behavior. In Ep.3, Donaghy – the 53 year-old father of four daughters – is at a restaurant with Martino and the producers. When Martino is gone from the table a while in the restroom, Donaghy leads the producers into men’s room with a pitcher of water, kicks down a stall door to pour water on Martino as Martino is seated going to the bathroom.
Here is Donaghy explaining his prank to the producers. WARNING: Explicit content:
Rather than express the expected shock or outrage, Martino simply rolls his eyes as if to ask, “Again?”; lifelong buddy Martino knows all too well Donaghy’s curious views and behavior. One can imagine Donaghy’s troubled mind being animated – as Charles Martino and many other have explained – when Donaghy seeks revenge for a perceived slight (often involving law enforcement).
Another missed opportunity
As the podcast notes (Ep. 3), Donaghy phoned his bets on NBA games to Martino using codes: “Chuck” (home team) and “John” (away). Incredibly and problematically, the podcast misses an opportunity to explain to the audience the codes only work if the co-conspirators know which game that night is being bet. Contrary to what Donaghy has always claimed (i.e., that – because he used “inside info” – he bet as much or more on games he didn’t officiate), the bets were almost exclusively on games officiated by Donaghy. Indeed, the podcast, itself, includes Martino stating (as he did to the FBI in 2007) there were a few bets on non-Donaghy games and because they were losers Battista stopped taking them. Let’s hope we get to hear Martino or Donaghy, especially, asked about this.
Other notable errors and omissions
(1) Producer Livingston asks (Ep. 2) the following question of Donaghy (emphases added): “The FBI watched all your games. What did they find after watching all the games that you bet on?”
The declarative statement and the question are each misinformed and problematic. “The FBI” (read: a few agents – who, it should be noted, through no fault of their own possessed no aptitude for such an endeavor) watched (1) a handful of games Donaghy officiated (2) in the 2006-07 season. Want to know why they didn’t select specific games? Because Donaghy claimed not to recall which games he bet. So, if you’re the FBI, what the heck can you search? For what as a Special Agent are you looking, when you don’t know which games, which sides, or what betting propositions?
(2) Sopranos star Michael Imperioli narrates the following (Ep. 2; emphasis added): “To approach the corrupted ref, Battista recruited their mutual friend and Donaghy’s closest buddy, Tommy Martino, to set up a meeting…Donaghy claims that at this meeting Battista threatened his family to get him involved. Battista denies this and says that Donaghy was a willing participant. Either way, a deal was made that took the scheme from small time to the big leagues. There was only one problem – Battista was addicted to cocaine and pills and had gotten greedy. He started betting and losing his clients money. So by the time Donaghy came along, Battista was in debt, desperate, and bound to fuck it all up.” There is so much to say about this dubious narrative I can’t address it all here. It’s all explained in Gaming the Game, of course. Re: Donaghy being “a willing participant” in the meeting and in the scheme, it was not Battista but the federal government which wrote (emphasis added) 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.” Please also recall government cooperator Martino was asked about the meeting, resulting in the FBI memorializing that Martino explained, “Donaghy complained that Concannon was not giving him any money so he wanted to start giving picks to (Battista).”
(3) Based on his personal interactions with Donaghy, producer Livingston questions (Ep. 2) Donaghy’s oft-repeated claims he stopped betting with Jack Concannon and was dying to stop betting on games once his life was no longer in jeopardy from Battista. Livingston is right to be skeptical, but he is apparently unaware this “question” was answered more than a decade ago. Donaghy did not stop gambling when the supposedly “threatening” Battista was no longer around (as Donaghy would have everyone believe). Battista went into rehab in mid-March 2007, and the conspiracy continued into April with another pro gambler, Pete Ruggieri, taking his place (Battista’s plea deal was thru March, all others were thru April for this reason). In fact, when Ruggieri told Donaghy he was shutting down the scheme, Donaghy begged for one more game to bet (according to FBI files). Beyond these facts, Donaghy admitted to the FBI that he returned to betting with Concannon February through April 2007 during the scandal; as such, Donaghy was betting with Concannon and Battista at the same time during that span. I explain these circumstances here.
(4) Donaghy says (Ep. 3) he officiated 30 games and this is evidence Martino and Battista are not to be believed because they each allege he officiated more than 40. There is no fact check by the producers on this, and the audience is left to shrug its collective shoulders with no resolution. Donaghy officiated 42 games by the time Battista entered rehab. Donaghy, kept betting, of course (with another gambler) for an undisclosed number of games. Donaghy reffed 44 games thru March, 52 regular season games thru April and 55 total games (incl playoffs) thru April (as noted above, plea deals for all except Battista state April).
(5) Because the podcast relies first and foremost on the words of Donaghy and Martino, there is no recognition of the significant fact Battista and other pro gamblers knew Donaghy was betting on games he officiated dating to the 2003-04 NBA season. That the gamblers were copying those bets for three years before the infamous December 2006 meeting between Donaghy, Martino, and Battista is relevant to several issues not discussed in the podcast. Indeed, in Ep. 4 we hear producer Livingston state definitively, “It’s hard to argue that (Martino) got dragged into this mess by Battista.” Actually, it is very easy to argue that speculative point (for reasons noted above and in Gaming the Game).
(6) I am baffled as to why the producers asked Donaghy or Martino about betting and the gambling subculture, let alone published their takes on the matter. Forgetting for a moment each man’s remarkable history of lying and exaggerating, how/why would they know?
NBA conspiracy theories revisited
In Episode 5, Tim Donaghy’s criminal defense attorney, John Lauro, simply repeats the conspiracy theories he espoused when defending Donaghy back in 2007 (I detail and critique each of these, and the manner in which they manifested themselves, in Gaming the Game). It is apparently lost on Lauro, and on Whistleblower producers, that the very Donaghy personality flaws illustrated in the podcast explain decisions made by authorities. That is, Donaghy’s lies, curious behavior, and “penchant for vengeance” resulted in one federal official calling the former NBA referee “a fucking loose cannon”. Thus, the plea deal for pro gambler Battista was not the result of some sinister plot by the NBA, as suggested by Lauro in the podcast. The case, without wiretaps or betting data/records, relied heavily on cooperator Donaghy, and over time authorities properly evaluated putting him on the stand as their star witness as problematic. The key legal issue of “venue” is overlooked entirely.
“The Mafia” and the NBA betting scandal
Voice-overs done with an attitude by Sopranos star Michael Imperioli, mobster Michael Franzese featured, “mafia-backed betting” splashed on the marketing imaging…all to hype a role for organized crime in the scandal which doesn’t exist. It was unfortunate and yet unsurprising to hear producer Livingston say (Ep. 5), “what I found most odd about Delaware County (PA) is its plainness. I guess I was expecting it to feel a little sinister; mobsters lurking in the shadows ready to break legs for unpaid debts.” Um, what? Why would he expect that? The FBI agents and the Assistant US Attorneys who all worked the scandal case never said a thing about organized crime – in public or in confidential files. The only reason/s anyone would think to inject organized crime into the story is because (1) they believed Donaghy’s self-serving bs in the first place and/or (2) want to sensationalize this angle for business purposes.
What’s old is new again
Here are just a few examples of what I mentioned above re producers treating the already-known facts as new and/or noteworthy.
(1) Much is made of Donaghy making a distinction between “fixing” a game and “manipulating/influencing” a game. A relevant exchange between producer Tim Livingston (TL) and Tim Donaghy (TD) went as follows (Ep. 2):
TD – “I think ‘fixed’ is you’re going out there with the agenda that you’re gonna do everything you can and make up fictitious calls or just totally do things that aren’t within the rules, but I think ‘manipulating’ is within the rules – it’s not wrong calls, but it’s just calls that you all of a sudden decide to enforce.”
TL – “But a good referee can manipulate the game within the rules.”
TD – “Sure. Any chance you got to help a player or hurt a player based on your relationship with that player within the rules you could do it.”
Donaghy has been making this argument for more than a decade, and in one of his earliest post-prison media appearances he had an almost identical exchange with ESPN’s Mark Schwartz. I transcribed the interview many years ago as part of my analysis and it can be found here for reference. There is also a quote from his book I found telling in this regard (from my blog in 2010):
Because (NBA) referees are able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, they can hide a whole lot of love or hate for players or a team with their calls. (p. 238)
My manipulation of Donaghy’s quote:
Because Tim Donaghy was able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, he could – depending on which side he bet that evening – hide a whole lot of ‘love’ or ‘hate’ for players or a team with his calls.
People familiar with my work debunking Donaghy’s bs over the years know one of his staples in interviews circa 2009 was that he didn’t make “incorrect calls” which would raise “red flags” for authorities. Here is a montage of Donaghy from back then:
(2) The podcast explores (Ep. 2) the much-publicized blizzard of calls between referees Donaghy and Scott Foster. In response to my interview, producer Livingston says it is a “new theory” Foster was betting on games officiated by Donaghy. I believe what Livingston meant to say was that it was a new theory to him (or to some of the audience/public), because I’ve been writing about and discussing this since 2008.
(3) In Ep. 4, there is a discussion about the childhoods of the three co-conspirators which includes Martino’s father stating the following about pro gambler Jimmy Battista: “His parents were probably some of the strictest individuals and most religious that I’ve known…(Jimmy) would have been the last person you would have expected to get involved in anything illegal or unethical.” Producer Livingston then states, “I had no idea Battista grew up in a strict, religious home.” For the record, Battista’s “strict, religious” upbringing is addressed in various ways no less than five times in Gaming the Game (2011). As with numerous others matters (on topics trivial and significant), the production team suffered from not reading the heavily-sourced book long before embarking on this project, and the podcast is lesser as a result. By themselves, the book’s footnotes would have provided a helpful roadmap to the primary source historical record.
While it is interesting hearing the voices of those we’ve been discussing since 2007, thus far the podcast suffers greatly throughout from a lack of knowledge and perspective. It is a recurring problem and deprives listeners of much information and context (please note I am not speaking about objective “he said – he said” matters). The omnipresent theme of conspiracy also detracts from the effort.
10/31/20 Update: Analysis of podcast concluding episodes is here.
Anyone interested in an evidence-based history of the matters misrepresented or sensationalized in the Whistleblower podcast can find it here (confidential law enforcement records, court documents, betting data and betting line analyses, along with interviews of dozens of relevant persons including federal officials, pro gamblers, sportsbook managers, and others knowledgeable about the scandal).
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