Only days before the Final Four, a federal grand jury in Chicago on Thursday indicted two former Northwestern University basketball starters for allegedly shaving points in three Big Ten Conference basketball games during the latter part of the 1994-95 season.
Guard Kenneth Dion Lee, who had been suspended by Northwestern for six games earlier that season for betting on college sports events, allegedly recruited two other players--forward-center Dewey Williams and reserve guard Matthew Purdy--to participate in the conspiracy. Lee and Williams were indicted for sports bribery; Purdy was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Although the Wildcats made the Rose Bowl as Big Ten football champions three seasons ago, they are traditionally a basketball doormat. Northwestern was 5-22 that season, and the three games that were allegedly fixed were Feb. 15 against Wisconsin, Feb. 22 against Penn State and March 1 at Michigan. Northwestern lost by more than the point spread in the first two games; against Michigan, the Wildcats were 25 1/2-point underdogs and lost by 17.
Lee and Williams, seniors at the time, allegedly conspired to fix the games with Kevin Pendergast, 27, of Los Olivos, Calif., and Brian Irving, 27, of San Francisco and formerly of Reno. Pendergast and Irving also were indicted Thursday for sports bribery and related charges.
Pendergast is a former kicker at Notre Dame who led the Irish in scoring in 1993, Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler told the Associated Press.
None of those named in the indictment was available for comment.
Lee allegedly was paid $4,000 for his role in setting up the fixes and recruiting the other two players. The amounts that Lee is said to have paid the other two players were not disclosed. According to the indictment, the bettors won at least $6,000 on the Penn State game and bet at least $20,000 on the Michigan game.
“Today’s college student has grown up in an environment which is desensitized to gambling,” Northwestern Athletic Director Rick Taylor said Thursday. “Sports pages list betting lines, churches sponsor bingo, states run lotteries and millions of people bet at state-licensed casinos. Point shaving, as alleged, is vastly different: It, purely and simply, is betrayal. Betrayal of self, teammate, family, coaches, university and the very game itself . . . This should be a lesson to us all that the problem is endemic, not isolated.”
The Northwestern allegations are only the latest in a string of gambling schemes involving college basketball players since the point-shaving scandal of 1951, which involved schools such as Kentucky, CCNY and New York University. Other recent point-shaving scandals have hit Arizona State and Tulane.
Prosecutors in Fresno are investigating allegations of point-shaving in the basketball program at Fresno State. Two years ago, 13 Boston College football players were suspended for betting on college and pro football and major league baseball games. Four University of Maryland football players and one basketball player were suspended by the NCAA in 1995 for betting on college games.
“It’s a bomb ready to explode. It can happen to anybody,” Duke basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski said in San Antonio. “You wouldn’t even know about it until it happened.”
Taylor said he did not expect the NCAA to issue sanctions against Northwestern.
In a separate indictment, a former member of the Wildcats football team, Brian Ballarini, of Chicago, was charged with running a sports bookmaking operation whose clients included Lee and other Northwestern students and athletes while he attended the Evanston, Ill., institution.
He also was charged with threatening Lee with physical harm if the player did not pay his gambling debts. Ballarini had no role in the point-shaving, according to the indictment.
Ballarini, 25, a wide receiver, never played a down or lettered for the Wildcats, and missed his senior season with an injury, according to a Northwestern spokeswoman.
According to U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar, Lee and Pendergast are cooperating with prosecutors and are likely to plead guilty to the charges in the near future.
Lassar said an FBI investigation began after Northwestern officials turned over to federal authorities results of an internal investigation. It was begun after Northwestern suspended Lee from the basketball team and star running back Dennis Lundy for the final game of the 1994 football season for betting on college sports events that did not involve their school.