A former University of Miami booster, incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, has told Yahoo Sports he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least seventy-two athletes from 2002 through 2010.
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Also among the revelations were damning details of Shapiro's co-ownership of a sports agency, Axcess Sports & Entertainment, for nearly his entire tenure as a Hurricanes booster. The same agency that signed two first-round picks from Miami, Vince Wilfolk and Jon Beason, and recruited dozens of others while Shapiro was allegedly providing cash and benefits to players. In interviews with federal prosecutors, Shapiro said many of those same players were also being funneled cash and benefits by his partner at Axcess, then-NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue. Shapiro said he also made payments on behalf of Axcess, including a $50,000 lump sum to Wilfork, as a recruiting tool for the agency.
In an effort to substantiate the booster's claims, Yahoo audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly one hundred interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and twenty-one human sources, including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach, corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro's rule-breaking.
Here's a rundown of some of the violations mentioned:
* NCAA rule-breaking with coaches and staffers: Shapiro said he violated NCAA rules with the knowledge or direct participation of at least six coaches. Clint Hurtt, Jeff Stoutland and Aubrey Hill on the football staff, and Frank Haith, Jake Morton and Jose Fernandez on the basketball staff. Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports Shapiro also violated NCAA rules with football assistant Joe Pannunzio, although the booster refused to answer any questions about that relationship. Shapiro also named assistant football equipment manager Sean Allen as someone who engaged in rulebreaking, and equipment managers Ralph Nogueras and Joey Corey as witnesses to some of his impropriety.
Among the specific incidents, Shapiro or other sources say Hurtt, Hill, Stoutland, Pannunzio and Allen all delivered top-tier recruits to Shapiro's home or luxury suite so the booster could make recruiting pitches to them. Among the players who were ushered to Shapiro while they were still in high school: Eventual Miami commitments Ray-Ray Armstrong, Dyron Dye and Olivier Vernon (prompted by Hurtt), eventual Florida commitments Andre Debose (Hurtt) and Matt Patchan (prompted by Stoutland and Pannunzio), eventual Georgia commitment Orson Charles (Pannunzio), and eventual Central Florida commitment Jeffery Godfrey (Allen).
The University of Alabama (Pannunzio and Soutland), University of Florida (Hill) and University of Louisville (Hurtt) all declined to make the coaches available for interviews. Allen declined comment, calling all of Shapiro's claims "egregious and false."
But Shapiro insists he came in contact with multiple recruits improperly during their official or unofficial visits going all the way back to 2002.
"Hell yeah, I recruited a lot of kids for Miami," Shapiro said. "With access to the clubs, access to the strip joints. My house. My boat. We're talking about high school football players. Not anybody can just get into the clubs or strip joints. Who is going to pay for it and make it happen? That was me."
The booster said his role went one step farther with the basketball program, when he paid $10,000 to help secure the commitment of recruit DeQuan Jones. Shapiro said the transaction was set up by assistant coach Jake Morton in 2007 who acted as the conduit for the funds, and was later acknowledged by head coach Frank Haith in a one-on-one conversation.
Haith denied Shapiro's claims through a University of Missouri spokesman. Morton, who is now at Western Kentucky, didn't return a call seeking comment.
Shapiro also entertained then-prominent AAU basketball coach Moe Hicks in October of 2008, with a nightclub visit that was attended by both Morton and Fernandez.
* Prostitution: Shapiro named thirty-nine Miami players or prospective recruits who he says received prostitution paid for by the booster. Due to the sensitivity of the claims, Yahoo Sports has chosen not to reveal the names of the players Shapiro claims were involved. However, two players confirmed the booster paid for sexual favors for themselves and others during their careers with the Hurricanes.
As for Shapiro, he said his role in arranging for prostitutes encountered various cosmetic changes over time. From 2002 to 2003, the booster said he used a handful of hotels to either make the services of prostitutes available to individual players, or throw "parties" where services were made available to multiple players. The booster said he would use connections with escorts or at local strip clubs to arrange for the availability of women.
In individual situations, he would set up a player with a hotel room and have a woman sent to their location. In group settings, Shapiro said he would use the Mercury Hotel in South Beach, where he would purchase multiple rooms where array of women would be made available to a large group of players. The rooms were typically registered under the alias "Teddy Dupay," a reference to the former University of Florida point guard whose 5-foot-9 stature and features were similar to the 5-foot-5 Shapiro.
|Photo from: lodging-world.com|
While Shapiro said he commonly paid cash for rooms and registered them under an alias to avoid a paper trail for the NCAA, Yahoo Sports was able to identify a handful of Mercury Hotel charges on the debit card from his Wachovia statements. One charge in particular took place for rooms reserved on September 29th, of 2002 and settled on September 30th. The charges, which totaled $1,215.77, took place on Miami's off week between a 38-6 win over Boston College and a 48-14 win against Connecticut.
Shortly after the purchase of Shapiro's $1.6 million yacht in the spring of 2003, the booster said he stopped convening larger scale "parties" and began offering prostitutes for individual players on his boat or in hotel rooms. One former offensive starter for the Hurricanes confirmed to Yahoo Sports that he had sex with a prostitute paid for by Shapiro and confirmed that other teammates did as well. He described in detail how the incident took place, but asked that the specifics not be shared for publication for fear of retribution.
Said Shapiro: "In 2002 and 2003 we were really rocking it for a while and it was just out of control. But I decided to get away from the regular Mercury Hotel situations. I was getting too old for that kind of thing, and I had the boat for prostitution situations. I still set up guys at hotels with individual-type things, but I never really used the Mercury after getting the boat."
The booster said while he paid for prostitutes to be available to players, Shapiro didn't engage in sex with the women. "I chose to pay and facilitate," he said. "Nothing more."
* Cash payments / bounties / tournaments: While Shapiro said he never had a specific payroll for players, he did use a number of avenues to pay athletes. With players in his inner circle, Shapiro said he was often asked and never declined to give varying amounts of cash to a player who requested it out of need. Shapiro's ex-girlfriend said the transactions would often take place at Shapiro's home and that she witnessed him giving cash to multiple players while the two were together.
According to summary documents acquired by Yahoo Sports, it was such a regular occurrence that one of the other defendants in Shapiro's Ponzi case, Roberto Torres, testified to it with federal prosecutors. Torres, who was the chief financial officer of Shapiro's Capitol Investments, told prosecutors he witnessed the booster paying Hurricanes football players in his Miami Beach mansion, and said he had "concern" Shapiro was being used by the athletes.
Torres has pled guilty to a count of securities fraud and is awaiting sentencing.
Shapiro also set up various "tournaments" where players won money for fishing, bowling and playing pool. And in the spirit of Luther Campbell's history with the program, Shapiro said he started a bounty system in 2002 tied to both rivalry games such as Florida State and Florida, and also games against highly ranked opponents.
The system is similar to the one reputed fan of the program Campbell was alleged to be running in the 1980's, in which he reportedly paid athletes for big plays. That activity came under NCAA scrutiny during a Pell Grant scandal revealed in a federal investigation in 1994. Fifty-seven Hurricanes football players were named in that scandal.
Three sources, including two former Miami football players, confirmed that Shaprio offered bounties.
The booster told Yahoo Sports he had a number of individual payouts for "hit of the game" and "big plays." He also put bounties on specific players, including Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and a three-year standing bounty on Seminoles quarterback Chris Rix from 2002 to 2004, offering $5,000 to any player who knocked him out of a game.
"We pounded the (expletive) out of that kid," Shapiro said of Rix. "Watch the tape of those games. You'll see so many big hits on him. Guys were all going after that $5,000 in cash. Jon Vilma tried to kill him, just crushed him, a couple of times trying to get that $5,000. And he almost got it too."
|Photo by: Steve Mitchell|
* Jewelry / clothing / travel / televisions / rims: Various gifts were provided for a variety of reasons. Sometimes as tokens to celebrate special occasions, other times as recruiting inducements for Shapiro's agency, Axcess Sports. The booster said he doled out tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry for players, including watches (Tavares Gooden and Antrel Rolle), diamond-studded dog tags (Sean Taylor) and an engagement ring (Devin Hester). He also spent thousands of dollars on suits and clothing for Hester, Gooden and Willis McGahee at Fashion Clothiers. Purchases that were confirmed to Yahoo Sports by the store's owner, Shelly Bloom.
Shapiro bought plane tickets for two of McGahee's female acquaintances to attend the 2002 Heisman Trophy ceremony and flew D.J. Williams' mother from California to Miami to spend time with her son and meet with Shapiro's partner at Axcess Sports, Michael Huyghue.
Televisions were purchased for Andrew Williams and Sam Shields, and the booster said he also gave Hester cash to buy rims for his SUV.
Gooden, McGahee, Hester, Shields and D.J. Williams didn't return calls seeking comment. Andrew Williams denied taking gifts from Shapiro.
* House / yacht privileges: Shapiro had two primary Miami Beach residences during his time as a booster. A large $2.7 million poolside home located in the interior of Miami Beach, and a lavish $6.1 million coastal Mediterranean estate located on the west side of Miami Beach. The multitude of players in Shapiro's inner circle were welcome to come and go at both properties with regularity.
Shapiro often invited players to his home to watch sports, shoot pool, or just relax. And he stocked the house with food, drinks and liquor that were readily available to guests.
One of Shapiro's neighbors near the $2.7 million home said the booster invited him inside in 2002, where he met and spent time with some of the players. The neighbor said the house's driveway and street in front of the property were often filled with cars of players who were at Shapiro's home.
"I'll put it this way, there were times I'd be on my way home and I'd roll by the house and the whole thing, and there was a lot going on there. A lot," the neighbor said. "Players and cars and all that."
Shapiro's $1.6 million yacht was also available to players on a regular basis for fishing trips, leisure trips and lodging for the availability of prostitution. Like his home, Shapiro stocked the boat with food and drinks and paid for fuel and captain fees any time players would take the yacht out. A process that cost in excess of $2,000 per trip depending on gas prices and maintenance. That reality that was spelled out in additional federal testimony in Shapiro's Ponzi case, when the booster's former business partner, Torres, informed federal prosecutors that Miami athletes were taking Shapiro's boat out "twice a week" while the booster was incurring all of the costs.
* Strip clubs / night clubs: Visits to strip clubs and night clubs were the most consistent staple of Shapiro's relationship with players, dating back to 2002 and running nearly up to his incarceration in April of 2010. One of Shapiro's bodyguards said his security detail had a consistent routine in place that it repeated several times a week. Travel to a nightclub or strip club prior to Shapiro to make the club security aware that the booster would be arriving with a large group. Secure Shapiro's VIP area, and be on hand to whisk the booster and his contingent of players past any lines and into the privacy of their own area, where Shapiro would often spend thousands of dollars per night on bottles of liquor and champagne.
Shapiro rotated through multiple strip clubs with players on a regular basis. Solid Gold, The Cheetah, Pink Pony and Tootsies Cabaret. Shapiro often arrived to the clubs with thick wads of cash to spend on the dancers. Despite that, his additional credit card charges for just Solid Gold from mid 2005 to 2010 totaled $32,683.25.
Strip club visits included both coaches and players, something that was referenced in a portion of federal testimony by Chicago real estate investor Sherwin Jarol, who was deposed in Shapiro's Ponzi case. At one point in his testimony, a recording of which was viewed by Yahoo Sports, Jarol describes a pair of August 2008 visits to Solid Gold nightclub with Shapiro. He says the coach of the Miami basketball team (Frank Haith) attended one trip. Further in his testimony, he testifies that he believed there were a couple football players and added they all seemed to have a relationship with Nevin. "Some stayed at his house," he said.
It was a regular occurrence for Shapiro to purchase private rooms for athletes inside the strip club, when the booster would give dancers cash to engage in whatever behavior the players desired.
Equally consistent if not more frequent were Shapiro's visits to multiple nightclubs, where he also favored paying his bills with stacks of cash. But that didn't stop massive charges from overflowing onto his credit cards. According to his statements, the reputed Hurricanes hotspot of Miami Beach's Mansion nightclub racked up $83,963.52 in charges on Shapiro's American Express bills from early 2005 to early 2009.
"We rocked Mansion so many times, I couldn't even count them," Shapiro said. "And I never went in there once without players, because it's just not the kind of place that you'd go to without them."
|Photo from: miamibeachadvisor.com|
* Meals / entertainment: Meals were another consistent staple of benefits provided by Shapiro, including meals at Prime 112, Grazie, Prime Italian, Benihana and several other establishments.
"He was always bringing athletes in to eat and introducing me to them," said a restaurateur at one high-end Miami Beach eatery. "Lots of big guys. Lots of University of Miami guys. Nevin did a lot of business with me. He spent a lot of money and made a lot of nights for me."
* Lodging / apartment: Shapiro said he provided lodging on occasion on his yacht or in his homes for players in his inner circle when needed, including varying stints for players such as Devin Hester, Graig Cooper, Kevin Everett and Vince Wilfork. He also allowed Tavares Gooden to use one of his rental properties, a studio apartment in the Mirador condos, for more than a month.
Gooden didn't return a call seeking comment.
* Abortion: In one instance, Shapiro described taking a player to the Pink Pony strip club and paying for a dancer to engage in sex with the athlete. In the ensuing weeks, Shapiro said the dancer called one of his security providers and informed him that the player had gotten her pregnant during the incident. Shapiro said he gave the dancer $500 to have an abortion performed, without notifying the player of the incident.
"I was doing him a favor," the booster said. "That idiot might have wanted to keep the baby."
Due to the sensitivity of the allegation, Yahoo Sports has chosen not to name the player allegedly involved.
* Axcess Sports benefits: According to Shapiro, the system for recruiting players to sign with Axcess Sports was actually compartmentalized between himself and Huyghue. The booster would use his close relationship with players to make an introduction to Huyghue, and then he would retreat from agency talk from that point forward and leave it to Huyghue to grow his own relationship and sign the player.
In that vein, Shapiro said it was also up to Huyghue to develop his own financial link to kids, providing his own set of extra benefits to athletes as he saw fit, including cash payments, travel and other inducements. And Shapiro told federal prosecutors that's precisely what Huyghue did, giving multiple illicit benefits, including cash, to several players at Miami. Claims that Huyghue called "fantasy."
"He's a convicted felon," Huyghue said. "I just don't want to get into such fantasy. I just wouldn't want to even go down that path. I don't even care what he said. Whatever he could say, there's just no substance to it."
The NCAA has been quoted as saying this is the biggest list of violations by one school they have ever seen. The ramifications and penalties from this could be both groundbreaking and explosive.