CORAL GABLES (AP) — The NCAA has found what it calls “a very severe issue of improper conduct” committed by former members of its own enforcement program during the Miami investigation, and will not deliver the long-awaited notice of allegations against the Hurricanes until an external review is completed.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the findings Wednesday. The sports governing body said former enforcement staff members worked with the criminal defense attorney for former Miami booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro “to improperly obtain information … through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA.”
“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated and even angry about these circumstances,” said Emmert, who also described it as “a shocking affair.”
The NCAA would not reveal the name of the attorney involved. Shapiro has been represented by Maria Elena Perez, a Miami graduate. Perez did not immediately return a request for comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday. A person in Perez’s office told the AP that the attorney was working in New York and would forward a message left at her office.
One key person in the investigation has been former Miami equipment-room staffer Sean Allen, who was deposed by Perez as part of Shapiro’s bankruptcy proceedings. If the NCAA found it could not use the information gleaned in that particular deposition, that would be a development figuring to favor the Hurricanes
Miami President Donna Shalala in a statement released through the university that she is “frustrated, disappointed and concerned” that the NCAA may have compromised the investigation.
“As we have done since the beginning, we will continue to work with the NCAA and now with their outside investigator hoping for a swift resolution of the investigation and our case,” Shalala said.
Shalala’s statement also said Miami first informed the NCAA of possible violations more than two years ago.
“I have been vocal in the past regarding the need for integrity by NCAA member schools, athletics administrators, coaches, and student-athletes,” Emmert said. “That same commitment to integrity applies to all of us in the NCAA national office.”
Emmert said the NCAA learned of the alleged misconduct, in part, through legal bills presented by Shapiro’s attorney for work that was not properly approved by the organization’s general counsel’s office.
“One of the questions that has to be answered, unequivocally, is what was the nature of that contractual arrangement and what was all the activity that that individual was involved with,” Emmert said. “There is some uncertainty about all of that and it’s one of the first orders of business for the firm that we’ve hired to investigate.”
Emmert spoke angrily at times during a half-hour conference call to discuss the findings, in which he revealed that he briefed the NCAA’s executive committee and the Division I board presidents with some information about the Miami matter. He said he developed a better understanding of what went on in the days that followed, which led to the hiring of Kenneth L. Wainstein of the firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP to conduct the external review of what happened.
Emmert said he hopes that process could be completed within two weeks, and that the investigation would continue with “appropriately acquired evidence.”
The NCAA utilized information from two depositions conducted as part of the bankruptcy case, and Emmert said one of the questions he wants Wainstein’s query to answer will be, “How in the world can you get this far without it being recognized that this was an inappropriate way to proceed?
“We cannot have the NCAA bringing forward an allegation that’s predicted on information that was collected by processes none of us could stand for,” Emmert said. “We’re going to move it as fast as possible, but we have to get this right.”
The Hurricanes’ athletic compliance practices have been probed by the NCAA for nearly two years. Allegations of wrongdoing involving Miami’s football and men’s basketball programs became widely known in August 2011 when Yahoo Sports published accusations brought by Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year term in federal prison for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme.
Miami has self-imposed two postseason bans in response to the investigation. The Hurricanes also would have played in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game this past season, meaning they could have qualified for the Orange Bowl.
“Although we are deeply disappointed in this turn of events, we strongly support the actions President Emmert is taking to address the problem,” said Lou Anna K. Simon, the NCAA’s executive committee chair and Michigan State’s president.
This would figure to be another significant issue for the NCAA and its enforcement department. Among the others pending:
— A California case filed by former Southern Cal assistant football coach Todd McNair, who said the NCAA was “malicious” in its investigation into his role in the benefits scandal surrounding Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller said he was convinced the actions of NCAA investigators were “over the top.”
— Earlier this month, the NCAA was sued by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas W. Corbett, who claimed the sports governing body overstepped its authority and “piled on” when it penalized Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal last summer. The governor asked a federal judge to throw out the sanctions, arguing that the measures — which include a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine — have harmed students, business owners and others who had nothing to do with Sandusky’s crimes.
And now comes Miami, an investigation that was believed to be nearing an end.
Many people who expected to be named in the notice of allegations had been briefed in recent days about what charges they may face, and the NCAA and Miami had reviewed some draft, or preliminary, findings.
Now the drawn-out inquiry has taken its most bizarre turn.
“In my two-and-a-half years I’ve certainly never seen anything like this, and don’t want to see it again,” Emmert said.
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