Officials talk to Mayo accuser
Investigators from the NCAA and Pacific 10 Conference and officials from USC have met with Louis Johnson to discuss his allegations that a sports agency funneled money to basketball star O.J. Mayo through an intermediary before and during his one season at USC.
In a seven-hour meeting Monday at the Los Angeles office of one of Johnson’s attorneys, NCAA investigators led the questioning of Johnson and reviewed receipts that the former Mayo confidant had provided to ESPN for an “Outside the Lines” report that aired last month, Johnson attorney David M. Murphy said.
Murphy said the receipts, which included hotel bills, credit card receipts and cellphone statements, would soon be forwarded to the FBI, which along with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. attorney’s office is probing alleged criminal transgressions by Bill Duffy Associates Sports Management and possible tax evasion and misuse of charitable organization funds by Mayo advisor Rodney Guillory.
Spokespeople for the FBI, IRS and U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles declined to comment about the investigation.
Anthony V. Salerno, another of Johnson’s attorneys, said the government agencies have begun investigating the case. He also speculated, based on 15 years leading his own law practice, that the U.S. attorney’s office doesn’t routinely involve itself in “a petty case” without “an internal sense of what’s significant enough to spend their time on.”
Salerno said federal prosecutors and investigators were aware of the potential for a larger-scale probe into how sports agencies attach themselves to young basketball stars.
“My sense is the government is drawing the line now,” Salerno said. “They don’t want to be seen as ignoring the problem. It happens so much, and this is the rare case where they have access to the facts, Louis’ story. The curtain’s been pulled back. It’s too strong to ignore.”
Johnson has accused BDA of providing about $250,000 in cash and benefits to Guillory, who funneled an estimated $30,000 of that to Mayo beginning when he was in high school and during his freshman season at USC. Mayo allegedly received a flat-screen TV, clothing, cellphone service, meals at restaurants such as Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles and the use of a Hermosa Beach hotel room. It is a misdemeanor in California for agents to provide cash or other benefits to college athletes.
BDA vice president Calvin Andrews briefly represented Mayo, who is expected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, before they severed ties last month. Mayo and BDA have denied any wrongdoing and Guillory has been unavailable for comment.
Unlike the federal probes, Murphy said the NCAA and Pac-10 investigation was “clearly looking more toward anything USC may have done or turned a blind eye to.” USC could face sanctions including a forfeiture of victories, probation, scholarship losses or a postseason ban if it is proved that Mayo accepted money in violation of NCAA rules.
Spokespeople for the NCAA and Pac-10 said they would not comment on potential or ongoing investigations.
Salerno said investigators would attempt to determine whether USC was “negligent of institutional oversight” for ignoring or failing to sufficiently scrutinize Guillory, who helped deliver Mayo to USC after being linked to inappropriate contact with former Southland-based players Jeff Trepagnier at USC and Tito Maddox at Fresno State in 2000.
Rick Evrard, an Overland Park, Kan., attorney who advises universities on NCAA rules, said institutions generally have a “heightened responsibility” to protect themselves from agent representatives who have previously engaged in documented wrongdoing.
“Once an individual is involved in a violation, or if the institution had some kind of notice that this individual hasn’t been completely within the rules or regulations, the [NCAA] committee on infractions will ask the institution, ‘What safeguards did you take to prevent this from happening a second time?’ ” said Evrard, a former NCAA investigator who added he was not speaking specifically about the USC investigation.
“Are you letting him into your student lounge? Are you letting him sit behind the bench? And [if so], the committee will ask, ‘Why? You know he’s been a source of problems in the past. Why is the institution giving him that kind of access?’ ”
Todd Dickey, a senior vice president for administration at USC, declined to comment when asked what access USC had granted Guillory. Trojans basketball Coach Tim Floyd has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
Murphy said that Johnson made his accusations in an attempt to fix a system in which adults exploit underprivileged star athletes such as Mayo. Johnson is writing a book about the problem.
“His take on the situation is not just O.J., but the kids that get wrapped up in situations like this, they’re kind of the victim because on the large part they’re kids that grew up with nothing,” Murphy said. “People like in O.J.'s situation, they’re on the doorstep of having everything. They have people dangling the carrot in front of their face, and no matter how decent of a person you are you’d be hard-pressed to not at least take a long look at that.”
Johnson initially reached out to ESPN, Murphy said, in an effort to expose the relationship among Mayo, Guillory and BDA because he feared that an associate of Guillory’s might physically harm him.
Johnson’s attorneys would not disclose their client’s location but said they were confident he was safe.
Murphy said he also spoke Wednesday with Danny Kim, a special agent from the California Department of Justice who is investigating whether funds from a sickle cell anemia charity were illegally used to pay for benefits to Mayo.
Johnson told ESPN that Tony Hicks, chief executive of the L.A.-based National Organization of Sickle Cell Prevention and Awareness Foundation, allowed Guillory to use an American Express card registered to the charity. As for the legitimacy of the organization, Murphy said Johnson couldn’t comment “because he wasn’t aware of it until very late” in his relationship with Guillory.
Johnson’s attorneys said the various investigations could last months and the timetable could hinge on the cooperation of the parties involved. Mayo has said he would oblige investigators.
As for Guillory, “He’s the guy that’s the conduit,” Salerno said. “If anyone knows anything about relationships with agencies, it’s going to be him.”