NCAA Investigation Targets Agent’s List : College football: Probe of alleged payments to three USC players grows to include UCLA, five other schools.
An NCAA and Pacific 10 Conference investigation into allegations that a sports agent paid three USC football players thousands of dollars will expand to include UCLA defensive star Donnie Edwards and at least half a dozen players from other schools, The Times has learned.
Among the football players targeted are Arizona’s Tedy Bruschi and Richard Dice, California’s Iheanyi Uwaezuoke, Oregon State’s Reggie Tongue and four from North Carolina. Also under scrutiny is Utah basketball player Brandon Jessie.
The inquiry into the players’ link to Robert Troy Caron, owner of Pro Manage of Oxnard, will continue after officials conclude a case involving USC’s Shawn Walters, Israel Ifeanyi and Errick Herrin. The three were indefinitely suspended by the school Thursday. They were questioned Friday by NCAA and Pac-10 officials for the third consecutive day about their relationships with Caron, who began working as an agent last year.
Reached at his home Friday, Caron said he did not pay players: “No, absolutely not.” His Pro Manage partner Nicko Rising, refused to comment, referring inquiries to his attorney.
Walters allegedly accepted $15,900 for airline tickets, pocket money and other expenses, according to a copy of a ledger obtained by The Times. Ifeanyi and Herrin received pagers.
Edwards, a senior linebacker who was injured against Oregon and is not expected to return for three weeks, was given $150 for food, according to another document. The handwritten memo asked that the $150 expenditure and another of $200 to Walters for a kitchen table be included in the players’ ledgers.
"[Athletic Director] Pete Dalis has been contacted this evening by [Associate Commissioner] David Price of the Pac-10 and we will arrange to meet with Donnie early next week,” UCLA spokesman Mark Dellins said.
Edwards said Friday that he knew Caron, but would not say how they met. Edwards said he had not been notified by conference or school officials about the situation.
“Until somebody contacts me, I have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t know anything about [the food money].”
Under NCAA rules, a college athlete can lose his or her eligibility if found to have accepted cash or other favors from a sports agent. In most cases involving agents, the school is not affected by the violations unless the NCAA enforcement staff rules that the institution knew, or should have known, about the incident.
Investigators are questioning players who are on a Pro Manage phone list, a copy of which was obtained by The Times. The list includes phone numbers and pager numbers of the players.
Some of the pagers were supplied to the athletes by Caron, sources said.
For instance, the pager of Brandon Jessie, Utah’s 6-foot-5 guard from Huntington Beach, is owned by Caron, according to the billing department of the pager company.
Jessie did not return phone calls Friday, but his father, Ron, a former Ram football player, said: “I always warned my kid not to do that. All the money he needs, he gets from me.”
Ron Jessie said he helped Caron, a personal injury lawyer, start the agency last year by offering advice on potential clients.
“The first thing I warned him, ‘You can’t go out and buy players.’ He knew that,” Jessie said.
Although Caron is registered with the NBA Players Assn., he does not have any NBA clients. However, the NFL Players Assn. said Caron represents Kenny Gales of the Chicago Bears and Eddie Mason of the New York Jets.
Caron, who was involved in the Ventura boxing scene, was close to Phil Mathews, the former Ventura College basketball coach who was recently hired by the University of San Francisco.
Dwayne Johnson, a former Miami defensive end who is currently not with any NFL team, said he received a beeper and $500 from Caron after his eligibility ended last year. Caron is his agent.
Dice, Arizona’s junior wide receiver from Northridge, said he had never heard of Caron.
Bruschi, the Wildcats’ senior defensive end, said he talked to Dice about the agent after an inquiry by The Times.
“I’m just trying to keep my nose clean,” Bruschi said. “When I hear the name agent, I don’t associate with him. [But] I know [Caron].”
Uwaezuoke, Cal’s senior wide receiver from Nigeria, said he didn’t know why his name was on the phone list, nor had he heard of Caron.
“I only know about this to the extent that Izzy [Ifeanyi] is somehow involved . . . but I don’t know why he would be implicated,” Uwaezuoke said. “He pretty much said he was going to go and tell them the truth and things will be cool.”
Other players expected to be contacted by the NCAA include:
--Sean Boyd, North Carolina safety: “A lot of agents are calling me. I don’t really know any names. I don’t usually talk to them. I tell them I’m waiting until the end of the year.”
--Marcus Wall, North Carolina wide receiver and co-captain: “No way. I don’t know anybody in that [Pro Manage] group.”
--Curtis Johnson, a former North Carolina tailback, said he met Caron through a North Carolina student, Preston Keaton, who served as an intermediary.
Two other North Carolina players on the list are tailback Leon Johnson and cornerback Fuzzy Lee. Neither could be reached by The Times.
Keaton denied that all of those named on the list were associated with Caron.
“Every agent makes a list,” he said. “That doesn’t mean he’s already got them under contract.”
At USC, Athletic Director Mike Garrett said he expected to start the final determination of the three players’ eligibility Monday. All three are being held out of today’s game against Arizona State at the Coliseum.
“We constantly explain to our athletes about the dangers these people represent to them . . . but it’s very difficult sometimes to reach these young people, they have egos and they get stroked . . . and they cross the threshold,” Garrett said.
“I have no fear that we would have to forfeit our first three games, not for any reason.”
Times staff writers Randy Harvey, Earl Gustkey and Steve Springer contributed to this story.