A Tale of How He Hooked the 'Horns The Imposter

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He's the kind of guy you call by first name, which made the whole thing easier.

When Gil Cazares said, "Hi, Ron," he was talking to Ron Weaver, a waiter he managed for two years at a Malibu restaurant and a friend who lived with him for a couple of weeks.

When Jimmy Rose said, "Hi, Ron," he was talking to Ron McKelvey, his teammate at L.A. Pierce College and sometime roommate.

When friends from Pierce came into the restaurant and were helped on the bill by "Ron's" employee discount, they thought they were talking to McKelvey.

They were. Ron Weaver and Ron McKelvey were the same person.

He is the Impostor. He was Ron Weaver, a wide receiver at Monterey Peninsula College in 1986 and '87 and an All-Western Football Conference player at Cal State Sacramento in 1988 and '89. He then became Ron McKelvey, a defensive back at Pierce and, for 11 games this fall, at the University of Texas.

By the time his deception began to unravel, on Dec. 29 in Salinas, Calif., and New Orleans, he had played seven years of college football and led two lives.

How?

It wasn't that difficult, actually.

Geography was a factor. So were circumstances. Being in Southern California helped. There was a little luck too.

He wasn't that secretive about it.

"He kept asking me to go to see him play, but they play games on Saturday nights and that's the busiest night of the week in the restaurant business," said Cazares. "I didn't go see him play."

Had Cazares gone, he might have been confused at seeing a friend and co-worker playing under a different name.

Weaver had walked into the office of Pierce Coach Bill Norton in the summer of 1993, claiming to be a football player who hadn't had a chance to play. Ron McKelvey, he called himself.

"He talked to us about practicing with us," Norton said. "He said he had been practicing at Santa Monica, but that it wasn't working out. I think he said he was 22 and that he had played at North Salinas High."

He was 27 at the time and had played at Monterey High and Monterey Peninsula College, then at Cal State Sacramento, where he set the school record for receiving yardage in a game, 220, set against Santa Clara in 1989. It was broken last season.

He wanted to play pro football but wasn't good enough.

His sister, Bonita Money, who has orchestrated a now-you-can-talk-to-him, now-you-can't campaign since he was found out three days before Texas played in the Sugar Bowl, says he has a degree from Cal State Sacramento in political science.

Cal State Sacramento says a check of its alumni records reveals no graduation for Ron Weaver.

He waited tables for a while in Monterey. Worked at his parents' liquor store. Had a problem with injuries from a fight. Wanted to play again.

"My lifelong dream was to play football," he told Sports Illustrated, "and I wanted it to last forever. . . . You know, playing football is a reason not to grow up. You stay young forever."

It wasn't difficult to find a way to stay young.

Norton gets all kinds of requests to play football for Pierce, and, because he is always on the lookout for players, most of those who request it get a try.

A workout showed that Weaver had promise.

"He was a real fired-up player," Norton said. "He wanted to play receiver, saying he had played receiver in high school. You could tell he was an athlete. He wasn't a defensive back, but he had some spirit and was real coachable and a real hard worker."

Getting him in school was no problem.

"He outright fooled everybody," said Marian McWilliams, Pierce's athletic director. "We don't know of anything he did that was suspicious. He was like any other student coming in. I think the same thing happened at Texas.

"He was a really hard-working, nice guy. Everybody liked him. You wouldn't even suspect. . . . It's difficult when somebody does that. You do all the checks and balances you can. He was smart enough to slip through that. Apparently, he fooled everybody."

To attend a junior college in California, you show up at the admissions office. No social security card is needed, though a clerk at Pierce said the school usually requires some piece of paper--a pay stub, for example--with a social security number on it.

It does not have to be your social security number, and the one Weaver gave wasn't.

He later amended the social security number on forms filled out at Pierce, giving that of Joel McKelvey, who actually goes by the name of Joel and lives in Salinas.

Weaver has said that McKelvey gave him permission to assume his identify, including the social security number. But McKelvey, who has said that he knows Weaver, said, "I am not in this game. I signed nothing. I know nothing. I don't want to talk about it."

Norton said he does not remember whether he tried to check Weaver/McKelvey's past, but research would have shown that no Ron McKelvey had played football at a college in California.

What else could Norton have done? Probably not much.

"When you stop and think about it, you can buy a social security card and driver's license on the streets of Los Angeles for a few dollars," Norton said.

Weaver worked hard at Pierce, made friends--"Ron was buddies with a bunch of guys," Norton said--and played defensive back well enough to be All-Western State Conference.

He lived with Bonita, a veteran of the L.A. party circuit and tabloid television, in Granada Hills for a while, then with Rose.

"Jimmy Rose called me and said he had no idea what Ron was doing, that he didn't know he wasn't Ron McKelvey," Norton said.

Weaver played well enough at Pierce to attract attention from Texas A&M;, Brigham Young and San Diego State. And Texas offered a scholarship to the player called Ron McKelvey.

The interviews were held in Woodland Hills and because Weaver is older than 21, there was no need to have his parents sign the letter of intent to attend Texas. Texas stopped worrying about high school transcripts for junior college transfers two years ago.

Embarrassed officials in Austin say they will go back to the old system now.

Weaver was a reserve cornerback and special teams player in 11 of the 12 games Texas played during the regular season, missing only the game against Virginia because of a sore ankle.

He had four tackles and one broken-up pass. Weaver also returned a kickoff nine yards in the Longhorns' season-opening victory at Hawaii.

He wasn't a star, which probably helped.

"When he left for Texas, we were all under the impression that he was going as a trainer--you know, a guy who tapes ankles and stuff," Cazares said. "He had mentioned something about playing at Sac State. He talked a lot about football."

And played a lot more football than your average collegian.

The Texas media guide lists his birth date as March 12, 1972, which is the real McKelvey's date of birth. It also says that Weaver "was a wide receiver in high school . . . suffered a severe hand injury following his senior year . . . he was attempting to break up an assault at a sporting event . . . he did not know the victim he was helping . . . the injury sidelined him from football for two years after high school."

Most of that is true, except for his not knowing the victim.

That would help explain a junior who was 23 years old.

Maybe there was a tip-off that he wasn't 23 in the players' questionnaire filled out for the Texas sports information office. Under favorite movies, most of his teammates listed "Speed," "Menace II Society" or "Tombstone." Weaver listed "Casablanca."

"To see him and talk to him, you wouldn't think he was 30 years old," Norton said. "It could happen all the time. You try to check on them the best you can, but I honestly don't remember if I called his high school to check on the kid."

If he had called to check on Ron McKelvey, he would have found a former North Salinas High student who graduated in 1990 and spent a lot of time in the weight room, though none on the football field.

The Californian, a newspaper in Salinas, checked and got pictures of the two. In late December, a reporter showed them to Sung Weaver, Ron Weaver's mother. "That's him," she said, identifying a Texas sports information picture identified as "Ron McKelvey."

Sung Weaver said her son had told her he was going to Texas for a job.

When the Californian contacted Ron Weaver at the Longhorns' hotel in New Orleans three days before the Sugar Bowl, he admitted his deceit and said he was undercover, "working on a book."

"I don't know why I got as far as I did," he said.

He later changed the story in a conversation with reporters, saying, "I am not writing no book. I have a hard enough time in English class," and adding that he was majoring in kinesiology, but "don't ask me to spell it. They just make me take it."

A book effort could put Weaver in more trouble than the possible fraud charges he could face. On Jan. 1, a California "Son of Sam" law went into place, making it illegal to profit from being charged with a crime.

The Californian also contacted Texas officials for comment, as well as the NCAA.

When Texas Coach John Mackovic, sports information director John Bianco and Texas compliance officer Leroy Sutherland confronted Weaver in New Orleans, he denied the story and offered proof that he was Ron McKelvey--a student identification card and bank credit card, which could also become a legal problem.

Weaver has told Sports Illustrated he had a checking account in the name of McKelvey, but "I never got a credit card in his name."

Two hours after meeting with Weaver, on the eve of the Sugar Bowl game against Virginia Tech, Mackovic told reporters at a Saturday news conference in a laughing vein that, "I know you've all heard, and it couldn't be a bowl game without a controversial story."

He then said Weaver, whom he called McKelvey throughout, had denied the story and that Texas was investigating.

A few blocks away, Weaver was packing.

"I think I remember him waking me up and saying, 'I gotta go,' " roommate Taje Allen, also a Texas cornerback, told reporters. "But I went back to sleep. But when I woke up again, everything was gone."

Later that day, about 24 hours before the kickoff of the Sugar Bowl, Texas said it had declared McKelvey ineligible.

It needn't have bothered. He was gone, but not forgotten. Not by a long shot.

Texas officials are embarrassed and still talk of prosecution. They have hired former FBI agent Oliver Revell to investigate.

"Texas is still intent on prosecution because we don't want anybody else to try this," Bianco said. "Everybody is still upset because of the hoax, and John Mackovic spent the day before the biggest game Texas has played in 10 years, from 8 a.m. until 10:30 at night, working on this, thinking about this.

"We want to make sure that nobody does something like this again."

A university investigation is complete, and the U.S. Attorney in Austin has been notified and is doing its own investigation. The NCAA has told the university that, because it had apparently been duped and quickly reacted when it found out, there will probably not be any forfeits.

Because Weaver apparently had McKelvey's permission to use his identity, prosecution will probably be difficult.

Weaver, who has been moving around Los Angeles, headquartering at his sister's apartment in Hancock Park, has been kept away from reporters and photographers by Bonita Money. An interview for this story was first promised, then pulled away because "our attorney said there might be legal problems," Money said, adding that the problems could be overcome by paying a photographer $350 to shoot pictures to accompany this story.

A lawyer, Michael Plotkin, was retained, talked with University of Texas officials, expressing Weaver's remorse, then was fired by Money, who claimed he was "trying to become part of the interview."

Varying versions of his story have been told by Money, who says she is a "film producer, working on a story that is the history of the Crips and the Bloods."

She claims to have known of the deception since before Weaver lined up at Pierce College.

There is embarrassment all around.

"I feel bad because we got duped," said Norton, who said he has mixed feelings.

"It's not like he's out robbing people, not like he's spending Orange County's money or is an S&L; guy. He's a guy who just wanted to play football, only to do it he took a scholarship from somebody who could do it legitimately."

Or somebody in the future.

"I'm just sick about Texas," Norton said. "I doubt they'll be coming here any time soon to recruit cornerbacks."

And if they do, there will probably be a better check of identification.

"I told them he was a hard worker, and he is," Norton said. "I told them he was a good practice player, and he is.

"Then they asked if he was truthful, and I told them he was.

"That's one on me."

And everybody else.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°