A U.S. Justice Department official has told the chairwoman of the University of Nevada System Board of Regents that no current or former Nevada Las Vegas basketball players are subjects of a federal point-shaving investigation.
John C. Keeney, deputy assistant attorney general with the Justice Department's criminal division, so informed chairwoman Carolyn Sparks in a one-sentence letter to the regents.
Sparks had asked the Justice Department for comment after published reports last month indicated that federal authorities were investigating whether UNLV players had shaved points last season as a result of their dealings with convicted sports fixer Richard Perry.
In his letter to Sparks, Keeney said: "Neither the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, nor its present or former basketball players are subjects or targets of a point-shaving investigation."
Doug Tillet, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, said the agency would have no further comment.
Sparks reportedly received Keeney's letter by fax Thursday in Reno, where the regents were conducting a closed personnel session with UNLV President Robert Maxson. The session was scheduled after charges by UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian that university administrators waged a campaign to damage his program and force him out of his job.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal, quoting an unidentified federal law enforcement official, reported on Feb. 13 that federal authorities were conducting a point-shaving investigation. The newspaper said that the inquiry covered the entire 1990-91 season, including UNLV's upset loss to Duke in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Ten days later, Tarkanian announced he was withdrawing the resignation he had submitted in June. Tarkanian said his change of heart was caused in part by his belief that UNLV legal counsel Brad Booke had instigated the Review-Journal report--a charge that Booke has denied.
Tarkanian said Friday he felt vindicated by Keeney's letter.
"I'm really happy with the way (the Justice Department) came out with (the letter)," he said. "I'm still madder than hell, though. (The story) should never have come out. It was totally manufactured from (within) our university to make our program look bad."
The Times reported last month that federal investigators had gone to a source outside the university to obtain documents pertaining to Perry's relationships with UNLV players. The Times could not determine whether the investigators were concerned about possible point shaving.
Also, the Associated Press reported that Las Vegas gaming figure Lem Banker had been questioned by the FBI about possible point shaving by UNLV players. Banker said he told the FBI he did not believe that point shaving had occurred.
An unidentified federal official was quoted by the AP on Friday as saying: "People can be questioned without there being a formal investigation."
Last week, Sports Illustrated, quoting unidentified law enforcement sources, reported that the inquiry involved gambling, but had not turned up evidence of point shaving. Another unidentified source quoted by the magazine said that Perry was the only target of the investigation.
Times staff writer Gene Wojciechowski contributed to this story.