Five More Charged in Parking Scandal
On the day the UCLA football team welcomed back several starters and key reserves suspended for using ill-gotten handicapped-parking permits, the Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed a new round of charges against five more current and former players, Cade McNown and Skip Hicks among them.
The widening scandal now involves 19 Bruins accused of using illegally obtained placards to get better parking spots on campus. Nine of them pleaded no contest to misdemeanor offenses in late July.
At least two more players are under investigation but have not been charged, authorities said.
McNown and Hicks, both of whom played in NFL games Sunday, were linked to the scam after The Times requested a check of California Department of Motor Vehicles records in July. Also charged Monday were current defensive back Eric Whitfield and former players Larry Atkins and Brendon Ayanbadejo.
The players are scheduled to be arraigned this morning for illegally possessing placards and giving false information to the DMV. The offenses carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
None of the five could be reached for comment. Nor would UCLA athletic department officials discuss Monday’s development.
The scandal has given the university a black eye and has been a significant setback for the nationally ranked football team. Ten current players were serving the final game of a two-game suspension when the Bruins lost to Ohio State on Saturday, 42-20.
The scheme was uncovered eight months ago when UCLA police spotted a car with an improperly displayed placard entering a parking garage on campus. An investigation led to numerous players who had illegally obtained placards.
Their applications listed maladies ranging from asthma to lower back pain and included fabricated physicians’ signatures.
The original 14 current and former players were charged in early July.
Ali Abdul Azziz, Robert Thomas, Damian Allen, Marques Anderson, Oscar Cabrera, Ryan Nece, Ryan Roques, Tony White and Deatra Clinton pleaded no contest. They were ordered to pay $1,485 in fines and costs, and to do 200 hours of community service with various groups that work with the disabled.
The remaining five players--James Ghezzi, Mark Reynosa, DuVal Hicks, Durell Price and Craig Walendy--had their cases continued and are scheduled for arraignment this morning. At least two of them are expected to enter pleas, authorities said.
Since suspending the playing privileges of 10 current players, the university had declared the matter closed. But The Times requested further information from the DMV and found that McNown, Hicks and Atkins were listed on the rolls of California drivers who had possessed placards.
At that point, prosecutors pressed for more information.
“We wanted to find out if these reports were true,” City Attorney James Hahn said. “We asked UCLA to conduct a further investigation.”
Campus police presented seven more cases to prosecutors. Besides charging the five, the city attorney’s office said it has information about current tailback Keith Brown and former player Akil Davis.
“There is no time frame on those cases,” Deputy City Attorney Brian Williams said. “There are some legal issues involved to see if we can file them at all.”
The case against McNown, now a rookie quarterback for the Chicago Bears, dates to early 1997 when he possessed a placard while apparently fit enough to practice with the team. McNown reacted angrily when first linked to the scandal.
“For lack of better words, I have been defamed,” he said in an interview at the Bears’ training camp at Platteville, Wis., this summer.
The former All-American said he applied for the placard after being injured during winter conditioning. He could not recall the nature of the injury, nor could sources at UCLA find any indication that he had been hurt.
Hicks, who now plays for the Washington Redskins, offered a public apology when his role in the scandal came to light. He told reporters, “As far as having a placard, I was young. You do things you regret when you’re young. I never parked in a handicap spot. I shouldn’t have had it. I used it to get into lots.”
After Monday’s charges were announced, UCLA officials again sought to put the matter to rest.
“In terms of any organized investigations, we are finished,” said Nancy Greenstein, director of police community services.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
A status report of those implicated in probe at UCLA:
FIVE NEWLY CHARGED, TO BE ARRAIGNED TODAY
(One count each of illegally possessing a handicapped-
parking placard and giving false information to the Department of Motor Vehicles.)
NINE WHO PLEADED NO CONTEST
*Ali Abdul Azziz
FIVE WHOSE ARRAIGNMENT WAS CONTINUED TO TODAY
ONE PLAYER WHO SERVED SUSPENSION BUT HAS NOT BEEN CHARGED
* served two-game suspension from football team