Thursday, March 21, 2019

My comments on the ESPN the Magazine piece about Tim Donaghy and the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal - Part II


Some comments about my involvement with the ESPN piece and my work on the NBA betting scandal

This is the definitive account of how Tim Donaghy conspired to fix NBA games -- and how, in so doing, he unwittingly enriched an array of gamblers to the tune of likely hundreds of millions of dollars.
From the ESPN the Magazine article

The texts from friends and colleagues began within hours of “The Boardroom Issue” of ESPN the Magazine’s release in mid-February.  Phone calls and emails soon followed joined by many more texts, and the correspondence only abated several days later: “Have you seen the article about Tim Donaghy/the NBA betting scandal? They stole your material/they didn’t give you enough credit!”  The internet and social media are littered with a smattering of these sorts of reactions as well. 

When Scott Eden first contacted me in July 2017, I was of the impression ESPN wished to discover new aspects of the scandal as the 10th anniversary approached, and that my work (including and especially Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen [Barricade, 2011]) would serve as the foundation of the new research/angles.  It never occurred to me in the year-and-a-half of assisting Scott that the finished product would be (1) a repeat of my work (2) offered as his/ESPN’s.
As someone actively engaged in public scholarship who routinely criticizes the media for poor reporting, I always feel obligated to assist persons who at least seem they’re taking the time to “get it right” (a glimpse of my CV will illustrate the dozens of media entities I have assisted hundreds of times the past 20+ years).  Thus, I was glad to offer my insights and assistance when Scott reached out to me.  Unfortunately, the results of such well-meaning and often time-consuming endeavors are not always satisfactory.  In this case, beyond the factual and contextual errors, there is the issue of intellectual property.  The reason so many people privately contacted me and others posted online (including a few media folks [please see immediately below]) is because not a thing of significance re the scandal offered in the article was new, and all of it was detailed far more extensively in Gaming the Game (predictably so – it’s a book, of course).
Note: Gill Alexander interviewed me about Gaming the Game years ago, and the audio was re-posted in reaction to the fallout from the ESPN piece.  You will note how many items and themes present in the February 2019 ESPN piece are discussed in the June 2011 Alexander interview of me.


Note: Henry Abbott, founder of ESPN’s popular TrueHoop blog, reviewed Gaming the Game for ESPN.com when it was released in 2011. 



Note: M. Haubs was formerly part of ESPN’s TrueHoop network of blogs, and he wrote a comprehensive review of Gaming the Game when the book was published in 2011.

Adding insult to injury, I was disappointed hearing Eden recently tell a radio audience the NBA betting scandal was “…this big story that never really got gigantic treatment.  There was one very good book about the subject called Gaming the Game told largely from one of the guys’ perspectives, Jimmy Battista.  But, otherwise, there were still these unsolved mysteries.”  Each of the bolded aspects in that very brief quote is wildly inaccurate.

Regarding Gaming the Game being “told largely…from (Battista’s) perspective,” Eden knows this is not remotely true, in part because the book so overtly relies on volumes of hard data (confidential law enforcement files, court documents, betting records, betting line data) and on other interview subjects (Assistant U.S. Attorneys, FBI agents, various law enforcement personnel, pro gamblers, sportsbook managers, gambling experts, Battista allies and adversaries, and others) – as explicitly detailed in the book’s source notes and in the acknowledgments - and especially because I was interviewed by Scott extensively on many occasions (in addition to significantly assisting him in other fashions).  For those unfamiliar with me, my research always relies first on primary source documents.  The study of organized crime is replete with poorly-sourced history and sociology, and thus my audiences always hear me speaking about the importance of data and of sourcingUndergraduate and graduate students actually learn research methods in my classes, and the law enforcement professionals, lawyers, and accountants who attend my various training sessions hear these basic points about this regardless of seminar topic.  To offer a sense of how seriously I view this issue, the first version of my Black Brothers, Inc: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia (Milo, 2005) had 104 pages of endnotes in 8-pt, single-spaced font.

And regarding “unsolved mysteries,” a reading of Gaming the Game will demonstrate no mysteries were solved in the ESPN article.  As I explained to Gill Alexander and his VSIN radio audience, the ESPN piece is entertaining and well-written, and thus worth a read; the issue is simply that I sacrificed much detailing this long ago and the material is presented as Eden’s/ESPN’s own.  Gill and I agreed that the relatively little new material, especially the reaction of NBA referees to the scandal and ESPN’s attempt at reviewing Donaghy’s 06-07 game calls, was interesting, but it was mere trivia compared to the bulk of the article discussing most fundamental aspects of the complicated and significant story – all of which had already been told in greater depth and with much-needed context.

Lastly, regarding “this big story which never got gigantic treatment,” Gaming the Game received considerable media attention and wide-spread critical acclaim (see, e.g., below), and the book made various best-seller lists in 2011 (see, e.g., this from the Wall Street Journal):

Formal reviews of Gaming the Game:

"impeccably researched...insightful...[Griffin's] street-wise writing sounds anything but academic...After reading 'Gaming the Game,' you'll never watch an NBA contest the same way again."
Las Vegas Review-Journal

"[Griffin] straddles the line between academic and storyteller, cop and journalist...[Gaming the Game] will blow your mind."
 Philadelphia Magazine

"An exhaustively researched book threatening to overturn some 
comfortable assumptions about the NBA's referee scandal ...
[Gaming the Game] delivers the intrigue you'd expect from 
a true crime thriller"  
ESPN.com's True Hoop

"Offers a fascinating look into the Donaghy scandal ... intriguing"  
Philadelphia Daily News

"[This] important new book ... offers a full picture of how 
the world of big-time sports gambling operates" 
 The Painted Area (an official ESPN.com NBA blog)

"A book you can bet is worth reading...
fascinating...a complete effort"
Delaware County (PA) Daily Times

"Few people are as qualified as Griffin to write this book...[his] scholarly background is evidenced in his research, which is flawless, a remarkable feat considering the subject matter...If you've ever wanted to know how the big-money betting outfits work, this is the book for you. If you've ever wondered about the true story behind the Tim Donaghy scandal and how much of the truth are we being told, this is also the book for you. Griffin gives readers the best of both worlds with Gaming the Game. His academic background ensures that readers will get all of the information that they need, but he is also a gifted story teller and writes in a way that will have you glued to the pages. This is easily one of the best books ever written about the sports betting scene and will give you a first-hand look at the biggest scandal to ever hit the NBA."
About.com

"Griffin curates FBI files, interviews, statistics and court documents, providing a narrative so vigorous and complex that readers are practically courtside.  The cast of characters -- bookies, refs, cops, and the infamous Donaghy -- come to life like players in a true crime novel"
 Biographie

"a tremendous read...fascinating...gripping...a must read for any bettor serious about the global marketplace...by far the most believable [account of the NBA betting scandal]"
Covers.com

"If you've ever wondered what the REAL story was behind Tim Donaghy and the NBA betting scandal, this is a must read...If you're interested in sports betting, you won't be able to put [Gaming the Game] down"
Bettors World

"compelling [and] many leveled...the research behind Gaming the Game is impressive...Griffin’s knowledge of the crime scene in and around Philadelphia illuminates Gaming the Game...He's a fluid, crisp writer and an A-1 historian of crime [who] combines an eye for human detail with the ability to convey broad social themes."   
Blogger News Network

"An outstanding read that might make you change the way you view professional sports."
Beyond the Bets

"A riveting story...fascinating...just a great book."
Pregame.com

"Griffin's investigation into big time gambling is fascinating...
Highly Recommended"
Gambling Book and News
Other praise for the work:

"A great read...Go pick up a copy of Gaming the Game" - Michael BarkannComcast SportsNet Philadelphia /Sportsradio 94WIP

“An exhaustive study…The ultimate rejection of Tim Donaghy’s lies…I highly recommend you grab this book” – Dwight JaynesComcast SportsNet Northwest

“Remarkable…A must-read, especially for NBA fans…Great research…Griffin does a great job of exposing Tim Donaghy…fascinating” – Chad Doing, “The Morning Sports Page” program on 95.5FM/750AM The Game (Portland)

“Outstanding…You’ve got to see this book…fascinating” – “Open Mic Daily” program on 97.1FM/1400AM ESPN Radio (Spartanburg)

“Heavily researched, heavily footnoted…The definitive book on the NBA betting scandal” – John Karalis (Red’s Army)

“Absurdly fascinating” – Isaac Ropp of the “Primetime with Isaac and Big Suke” program on1080 The Fan, ESPN Radio (Portland)

“Great stuff” – Dom Giordano1210 WPHT The Big Talker(Philadelphia)

“A terrific book…I enjoyed it immensely” – Joshua Halickman, “The Sports Rabbi

“A fascinating read” – “The Opening Drive” program on Jox 94.5FM(Birmingham)

“I couldn’t put this book down” – Greg Rasheed, 88.5FM/1390AM KGNU (Boulder/Denver)

“A fantastic read…fascinating stuff” – Mike Richards, “The Mike Richards Show,” TSN Radio

“Very comprehensive” – Soren Petro,”The Program,” Sports Radio 810 WHB (Kansas City)

“Really interesting…well-researched…fascinating” – Adam Levitan (Metro columnistRotoworld NFL/NBA writer)

“A must read…Very interesting” – Pat Williams, Don Best TV

“I strongly urge people to go out and get this book…really fascinating stuff “ – Gill Alexander (“ The Betting Dork,” Pregame.com)

“Fascinating…well-written…illuminating” – Crime Beat

“Fascinating stuff” – “Prime Time Sports” program on SportsNet Radio 590 (Toronto)








My comments on the ESPN the Magazine piece about Tim Donaghy and the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal - Part I

As someone who has spent hundreds of hours researching the NBA betting scandal over a decade, including the publishing of a critically-acclaimed and best-selling book on the subject, I have informed thoughts on the recent ESPN the Magazine article, “How former ref Tim Donaghy conspired to fix NBA games” by Scott Eden.  Rather than humoring repeated media inquiries, I am opting instead to post here for everyone to conveniently reference.  I offer my insights in two sections: (1) a substantive critique of the article’s content (below); and (2) a commentary on my involvement with, and reaction to, the piece (here).

Disclaimer: Starting in July 2017, I assisted Scott Eden extensively on the piece, but never knew what he was writing and saw the article – in any fashion - for the first time only after it was published.

Some comments on matters of substance1 (in order of significance, not in order of appearance):

1. Eden wrongly states the FBI and NBA concluded Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games (emphases added):

For 11 years, the official plotline has been that Donaghy was a rogue, gambling-addicted ref who made some bets on his own games -- and nothing more. The NBA conducted its own investigation and concluded that Donaghy, in fact, did not fix games.
and
A few weeks later, four days after the Post story broke, David Stern gave his first news conference. His messaging was clear: Donaghy was a rogue. He'd acted alone. This was an episode of gambling, yes, but almost assuredly not match-fixing. "Indeed," Stern assured the assembled media, "as a matter of his on-court performance, he's in the top tier of accuracy."
Stern's conclusion that Donaghy did not fix games would be validated by the federal investigation. Donaghy, in August 2007, and Martino, in April 2008, would plead guilty to two charges: conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit gambling information. Battista would cut a deal, pleading guilty in April 2008 only to the charge of transmission of gambling information. Martino would receive a year and Donaghy and Battista 15 months each in federal prison. But while Donaghy would admit to betting on his own games in his plea agreement, he would not admit to fixing games.
These matters are so consequential and problematic I have posted a lengthy, stand-alone commentary on them.


2. Eden wrongly characterizes the December 2006 meeting between the three co-conspirators as a “bribe” offered by pro gambler Battista to referee Donaghy (emphasis added):

 The bribe was only two dimes, $2,000 per game -- an outrageous bargain. If the pick won, the ref got his two dimes. If the pick missed, the ref owed nothing; Battista would eat the loss.
I’m assuming most readers didn’t catch – or thought nothing of - this, but words matter, especially in a complicated story of historical significance.  I first heard Eden describe the conspiracy this way in a call from him shortly before publication, and my efforts to disabuse Scott of his curious misunderstanding were unfortunately unsuccessful.  The legal definition of bribery includes the following key criteria (emphasis added):

Bribery refers to the offering, giving, soliciting, or receiving of any item of value as a means of influencing the actions of an individual…Proof of bribery requires demonstrating a ‘quid pro quo’ relationship in which the recipient directly alters behavior in exchange for the gift. 
Please recall Donaghy was betting on games he officiated for years before he convened with Battista to discuss continuing his behavior.  Martino (who cooperated with the government) and Battitsa (who did not), each independently described the meeting and the agreement as mutual between Donaghy and Battista.  The federal government – following Donaghy’s proffer sessions and plea agreement - did, too, which is why prosecutors wrote Donaghy “has never taken the position that he was anything other than a willing participant in the scheme with Battista and Martino, and, before them, with Jack Concannon.” 

This is why Judge Carol Bagley Amon stated of the conspiracy (emphasis added):

In December of 2006, defendants James Battista and Thomas Martino approached Donaghy and informed him that they were aware that he had been placing bets on NBA games, including games he had refereed.  Battista proposed an arrangement whereby Donaghy would provide picks on NBA games to Battista through Martino. 
As she sentenced him, Amon added Donaghy was “more culpable” than either of his co-conspirators.


3. Eden prominently quotes perjurer Tommy Martino on the preeminent matter of Donaghy fixing games without explaining this is “Martino version 4.0”:

ESPN.com highlights a Martino quote thusly:

"By six points either way. That's what he told me." 
Tommy Martino on how much Donaghy said he could influence an NBA game

For those unaware, in the decade-plus since the scandal, Tommy Martino has never come close to making such a bold claim – not to the FBI (during his proffer sessions when his freedom was at stake) and not to the media (through his attorneys or in the context of Donaghy exploiting Martino while Donaghy was hyping his book).  Context Eden either does not know or ignored matters greatly here.

I am certainly no fan or defender of Tim Donaghy; I have chronicled his unreal off-court antics in print and on the web, and have debunked his myriad demonstrable falsehoods hundreds of times.  However, there is little reason to believe this whopper of a Martino quote.  Here is the context Eden deprived his readers.

I sarcastically refer to “Martino 4.0” above because this is at least the 4th different version of this co-conspirator’s statements on the scandal.  Martino 1.0 lied to the federal grand jury, which resulted in him being charged with perjury.  In response to the outcome of version 1.0, Martino 2.0 cooperated with the government, and during proffer sessions with authorities offered his most valid, supportable version of events to date.  Martino 2.0 then pleaded guilty to wire fraud, with authorities dropping theremaining charges (two for perjury, and one for transmitting wagering information – in consideration of his cooperation).  After he was released from prison, Martino 3.0 reunited with his old friend Donaghy (himself then a recently-released con), and took to better aligning his version of events with Donaghy’s.  Because media folks were lazy and because they didn’t have access to Martino’s confidential FBI statements, few realized Martino 3.0 was arguing (perhaps for personal and/or financial reasons) against Martino 2.0 on the preeminent matter of Donaghy fixing games.  Returning to the recent ESPN piece, we now get Martino 4.0 incredibly telling Eden not only that he knew Donaghy was fixing games but that Donaghy spoke with him about by how many points he could influence a game and that certain games (blowouts) were unfixable.  Eden does not tell his readers any of the above about Martino’s ever-evolving versions, nor that Martino 4.0 is actively involved in a business venture which would benefit greatly from Martino and the scandal being discussed again (the venture, of course, would benefit from some new sensational claim generating attention, such as Martino now offering a damning quote for the first time).  Instead, the Martino narratives are offered as factual and the money quote is actually highlighted as a pop-out.  It is wholly unsurprising that when asked by Eden on when Donaghy allegedly uttered the unbelievable quote, Martino can’t say:

It took a second for me to comprehend what Martino was telling me. "When did he tell you this?" I asked. Martino couldn't remember, not exactly. "During all this s---," he said.


4. On the curious case of retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Phil Scala

Scala is quoted on the pre-eminent issues of (1) whether the FBI “concluded” Donaghy didn’t fix games, and Scala (as he did when I interviewed him approximately 10 years ago for Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen [Barricade, 2011]) once more explained the FBI and US Attorney’s Office refused to agree to a plea deal unless Donaghy acknowledged his on-court performance was necessarily affected by his bets on games he officiated (i.e., the feds never came close to concluding Donaghy didn’t fix games); and (2) why federal authorities accepted they were not going to be able to conclusively prove Donaghy was fixing games (please see here for my assessment of this).  Predictably, for those unfamiliar with Gaming the Game, this Scala quote in the ESPN article re: Donaghy fixing games was especially remarkable:

"Donaghy says he never threw a game," Scala told me. "But you know what? That never really flew with us." According to Scala, his and the FBI's position has always been that Donaghy's deals with Concannon and Battista irrevocably "tainted" his capacity for officiating, even if only subconsciously. (This notion even found its way into the Pedowitz report itself.) Scala recalls that he and Donaghy went around and around on the issue. "I said to him, 'Listen, don't tell me that you have some independent, decision-making ability in your mind's computer that's going to be unbiased, because that's not going to f---ing happen. All those gray-area decisions you have to make, Tim? Because you're betting on the game, your judgment is off -- and you threw the game.'"
The quote was considered so newsworthy that in its formal statement on the matter the NBA wrote:

The ESPN Article includes several quotes from named and unnamed individuals.  But these statements conflict with other evidence in the record and in many cases are based on speculation.  For example:
• ESPN quotes Phil Scala, a retired FBI agent who was part of the government’s investigation, as saying Donaghy’s claim that he did not manipulate games “never really flew with us.” But in 2009, Scala wrote a foreword to a book authored by Donaghy in which Scala characterized Donaghy’s cooperation as “unconditionally truthful” and stated that Donaghy “confess[ed] his sins, [took] full responsibility for his actions, pa[id] his debt to society, and [found] the humility to completely display his past vices.”
Many interested parties were confused by Scala’s seemingly conflicting stances re: Donaghy.  For example, after reading the NBA’s statement, Dan Feldman of NBCSports.com asked a question many have posed to me over the years (emphasis added):

…the league raises one question that seems particularly relevant: Why did former FBI agent Phil Scala vouch for Donaghy’s honesty then express doubt over Donaghy’s claim he didn’t fix games?
Again, timing and context matter, and each is lacking in the ESPN piece.  When I interviewed him for Gaming the Game, Scala explained why he initially believed Donaghy back in 2007:

You always try to corroborate, but there are other things, but there are other things you can’t corroborate that are “he-said-she said”.  When you sign someone up, until something’s proven to be a lie, you gotta go with the person who signs the agreement.2
The Scala foreword to Donaghy’s book (which importantly focuses exclusively on the FBI probe and on Donaghy’s cooperation, and which makes no assessment of Donaghy’s book or related claims) is technically accurate in that, as far as Scala knew (or at least wanted to believe) Donaghy had cooperated with authorities in good faith.  As noted above and elsewhere, Scala (and his colleagues) had already disagreed with Donaghy on the preeminent issue of game outcome influencing, starting with Donaghy’s plea negotiations.  In 2007, rather than viewing Donaghy as a manipulative hustler and liar, Scala was humoring that Donaghy may somehow not have been consciously fixing games.  This is largely why the government’s plea deal included tortured language stating Donaghy acknowledged that he “compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance.” 

Please recall the FBI could not rely on the words of government cooperator Tommy Martino (who only flipped after perjuring himself before the grand jury) and had no access to the third co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista.  Just as, if not more, significantly, the FBI didn’t have access to Battista’s electronic betting records and never researched betting line data.  Collectively, then, there were little means available to assess the validity of Donaghy’s claims.  It is true Scala’s colleagues didn’t share his confidence in Donaghy’s sincerity (and didn’t particularly care for the manner in which Scala personally dealt with Donaghy), but Scala had no factual basis (beyond the statements emanating from perjurer Martino’s proffer sessions) to conclude Donaghy was spouting outright falsehoods.  What little Scala knew about the logistics of the scandal as of the 2007 Donaghy plea deal largely remained when Donaghy concluded his federal prison sentence and published his 2009 book.3

Interested parties (such as Dan Feldman) may be shocked to learn that since 2009 Scala has mocked or outright debunked these key Donaghy claims: (1) the FBI concluded Donaghy didn’t fix games; (2) Scala (indeed, the FBI as an institution!) supports Donaghy’s version of events; (3) “the mob” extorted him/forced him to bet on his own games/beat him in prison; and (4) the FBI planned to arrest other NBA referees (based on Donaghy’s insights) but the prosecuting US Attorney’s Office decided against it for political reasons.  

Unfortunately, the majority of the media have somehow missed practically all of this. 

spg

1. This brief list is far from exhaustive (e.g., I am described in the article as a former Philadelphia Police detective; I was a police officer).

2. Scala added, "You gotta go with the cooperator’s sincerity in things that are painful to him, and there were a lot of things Donaghy told us that we felt he was being honest about." Scala was referencing Donaghy’s (shrewd, self-serving, and ingratiating) statements about causing harm to his family.  Donaghy’s savvy tactics of (1) claiming gambling addiction and (2) expressing sorrow for causing grief to his family - which collectively serve to distract from his actions and to shield him from a more caustic grilling when presenting his many demonstrable falsehoods - have become Donaghy staples, starting with his post-prison 2009 media appearances.

3. I am only focusing on Scala because he is featured in the ESPN piece (which then resulted in the NBA commenting on Scala).  I sense, however, many if not most journalists and news readers are unaware Scala knows far less about the case than the agents, Harris (lead) and Conrad, who conducted the probe.  Comically, given Scala’s inflated role in the media about all this, Scala discusses this himself in the foreword to Donaghy’s (factually-challenged) book.




Thursday, February 28, 2019

On the FBI and the NBA "concluding" Tim Donaghy didn't fix games


Let me first say…I CAN’T BELIEVE WE ARE STILL HAVING THIS DISCUSSION (a full decade on, no less).

Listen to me.  I’m begging you.  Please listen to me: 

The FBI has never “concluded” Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games.  Neither has the NBA.

What prompts my tone and attitude about this are these passages in the recent ESPN the Magazine piece (emphases added):

For 11 years, the official plotline has been that Donaghy was a rogue, gambling-addicted ref who made some bets on his own games -- and nothing more. The NBA conducted its own investigation and concluded that Donaghy, in fact, did not fix games.
and
A few weeks later, four days after the Post story broke, David Stern gave his first news conference. His messaging was clear: Donaghy was a rogue. He'd acted alone. This was an episode of gambling, yes, but almost assuredly not match-fixing. "Indeed," Stern assured the assembled media, "as a matter of his on-court performance, he's in the top tier of accuracy."
Stern's conclusion that Donaghy did not fix games would be validated by the federal investigation. Donaghy, in August 2007, and Martino, in April 2008, would plead guilty to two charges: conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit gambling information. Battista would cut a deal, pleading guilty in April 2008 only to the charge of transmission of gambling information. Martino would receive a year and Donaghy and Battista 15 months each in federal prison. But while Donaghy would admit to betting on his own games in his plea agreement, he would not admit to fixing games.
This is only the latest (albeit a rather high profile and widely-disseminated) version of this simplistic ahistorical version of events, which began long ago with lazy reporting before being hyped in self-serving fashion by Donaghy (and the vicious cycle was complete when still more lazy reporting promoted Donaghy’s nonsensical and demonstrably-false claims).

Here, again, for clarity and before my comments, are the relevant statements on the matter (in chronological order of appearance):

Federal government court filings:





Donaghy has denied intentionally making calls designed to manipulate games, and the government has said that it found “no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.” Based on our review, and with the information we have available, we are unable to contradict the government’s conclusion. 
and
We have no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the government’s investigation on which it based its conclusion. We believe that the government would have been naturally skeptical of Donaghy’s assertion that he did not go beyond exploiting “inside” information and did not intentionally make calls to influence the outcome of games. Before concluding that there was no evidence that Donaghy intentionally made incorrect calls, the government investigators doubtless questioned Donaghy carefully about the specific non-public information on which he based his picks, and his conduct while officiating those sixteen games. Because the NBA provided video of games that Donaghy officiated, the government also would have had the opportunity to review these games and to cross-examine Donaghy ― and assess the logic of his explanations and his demeanor. While we do not know what Donaghy told the government, he clearly convinced them that he had not manipulated these games.  (emphases added)
and
It seems plausible to us that Donaghy may not have manipulated games. He likely had concerns about being detected. Because there were two other referees on the floor, it was inherently risky for him to make an intentionally incorrect call or non-call without being questioned or overruled by his crewmates. (emphasis added)

Tim Donaghy, following his stint in federal prison, reflecting on his plea agreement’s tacitly-damning wording:


Retired FBI SSA Scala:


As quoted in Gaming the Game re federal authorities refusing to a plea deal with Donaghy during the summer of 2007 unless he admitted his bets necessarily impacted his officiating (February 2011):

…there was one considerable area of dissension between Donaghy and his federal handlers.  Included in the charging document was a line which read, “Donaghy also compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games.”  Donaghy had insisted to authorities that he knew so much “inside information” that he didn’t need to throw or manipulate games.  Phil Scala says he and his colleagues told Donaghy that even if this was true, “Once you bet on a game you’re officiating, your judgment is impaired.  When your judgment is impaired, your decision making is damaged.”  Donaghy did not want to concede this line of reasoning, says Scala.  “We went back and forth with that a hundred times.  He didn’t want to make that admission.  He would say, ‘You don’t know how easy it was, blah, blah, blah’.”
Thus, Scala’s comments in the recent ESPN piece are not all that new or remarkable:

…Scala, the FBI agent who pursued the case, has doubts. "Donaghy says he never threw a game," Scala told me. "But you know what? That never really flew with us." According to Scala, his and the FBI's position has always been that Donaghy's deals with Concannon and Battista irrevocably "tainted" his capacity for officiating, even if only subconsciously. (This notion even found its way into the Pedowitz report itself.) Scala recalls that he and Donaghy went around and around on the issue. "I said to him, 'Listen, don't tell me that you have some independent, decision-making ability in your mind's computer that's going to be unbiased, because that's not going to f---ing happen. All those gray-area decisions you have to make, Tim? Because you're betting on the game, your judgment is off -- and you threw the game.'"
As I explained in detail in Gaming the Game and elsewhere, there were several reasons FBI case agents Harris and Conrad – who for starters were: (1) based in New York; and (2) part of an organized crime squad now being tasked with repeatedly traveling to the suburbs of Philly to pursue a white-collar gambling case – soon (with Scala supervising) settled on not more seriously pursuing the matter of whether Donaghy fixed games.  Importantly, please first recall the FBI didn’t have access to the offshore betting records and didn’t research betting line activity.1  Also recall pro gambler Battista didn’t cooperate with the government and fellow co-conspirator Martino perjured himself before the grand jury and was thus a tainted source.  Then recall Donaghy, in addition to adamantly stating he didn’t fix games, claimed to not remember which games he bet nor which sides, etc.  So, just stop and consider all of that for a moment and ask yourself how FBI agents were supposed to assess whether Donaghy fixed games.  What games?  And, without betting info, even if you had specific games in mind, what would you assess without knowing on which side he bet?  Against what evidence would you compare your findings and/or his assertions? 

Please note I haven’t yet mentioned the problems of having FBI agents subjectively watching game tapes looking for dubious calls (also realize agents were looking for incorrect calls, not for technically-correct but relatively unusual ones called strategically – please revisit Scala’s comments above); you don’t have to get to that point to realize there was no way federal authorities could confidently believe much less conclude Donaghy was fixing games.  They knew this, too, and once Donaghy acquiesced to acknowledging his on-court performance may have been at least subconsciously affected by his bets, they were (in my view, properly) satisfied to close up shop on the Tim Donaghy/NBA betting scandal and get back to the real work in NYC of dealing with organized crime.  Donaghy would shrewdly go on to exploit the naivete and ignorance of the media (see, especially, the 60 Minutes disgrace) along with much of the public, using the ambiguous and tortured (however tacitly-damning) wording in the government filings to boldly and repeatedly proclaim some version of “The FBI did a thorough investigation and concluded I didn’t fix games/make calls in a game to advance my bets/fix games”.

As I was penning this post, the NBA issued a formal release in response to the ESPN the Magazine piece.  In it, incredibly (for reasons the public will find very interesting at some point), the NBA explicitly states:

Unfortunately, it is replete with errors, beginning with its statement that the Pedowitz Report “concluded that Donaghy, in fact, did not fix games.”  The Pedowitz Report made no such conclusion.  Rather, the investigation found no basis to disagree with the finding of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that “[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”  ESPN ignores this important distinction.2
The official statement resulted in headlines like this one from NBC Sports: “NBA Emphasizes Its Investigation Never Concluded Tim Donaghy Didn’t Fix Games”.

Reaction to the league's statement among many serious NBA betting scandal followers was some combination of shock and confusion. 

Folks like me have been banging this drum for a decade – indeed, I just made this point on VSIN with Gill Alexander days ago.   In this regard, here is a blog post I wrote on May 11, 2010.  You can sense by my sarcasm it was already a major source of frustration with me by then (the embedded links are to other dated posts of mine on the subject):

Another newsworthy appearance for former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.  He appeared on 95.5 The Game (Portland) on 5/10/10, where the hosts of the Morning Sports Page had the audacity to reference analysis and official records in their insightful interview.

Dozens of other sports radio hosts around the country are apparently not aware they are allowed to do a modicum of research and to ask follow-up questions.  Among other things, the MSP hosts properly pointed out that the FBI never "concluded" Donaghy didn't fix games, and that there is no supporting evidence for his claim that he won 70% to 80% of his bets.  Donaghy, himself, says he can't reproduce his betting propositions (sides, lines, outcomes), so how could the FBI "confirm" anything re: Donaghy's betting success rate?  The FBI doesn't even pretend to know how many games he bet much less what the propositions and their results were.
To my knowledge, however, and as always I welcome any information to the contrary, the 2/22/19 statement is the first time (publicly or privately) the NBA has officially taken this position.3  Indeed, from what I have reviewed off and on since 2011 (especially throughout the many hearings and depositions in the various legalization of sports gambling-related matters), the NBA stuck to their guns making far more definitive stances re Donaghy never fixing a game, etc.  At a minimum, the NBA was perfectly comfortable – for a decade – allowing the myths to persist of the FBI and the NBA each independently concluding Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games.

Having gone through the focus of the above, namely whether or not the FBI and/or NBA ever concluded Tim Donaghy didn’t fix games (one last reminder - they didn’t), I wish to end thusly:

Despite the tacitly-damning language in his plea deal and despite the repeated comments of former FBI SSA Scala and other federal officials who worked the case, Tim Donaghy insists he didn’t fix games. 

Well…
  • his co-conspirators
  • pro gamblers (including several who profited from the scheme)
  • electronic betting records
  • betting line data

all say otherwise.

spg

1 For those new to my work on the NBA betting scandal, please know perhaps my lone criticism of the FBI’s probe into whether games were fixed or not is that they never considered assessing betting line data.  These data are publicly available and easy to find (as opposed to electronic betting records, which would have required considerable investigation and search warrants).  Ideally, in my view, the agents should have first done an assessment of line movement on Donaghy’s games in the ’06-07 season and compared them to all other games (as is done in the Appendix of Gaming the Game).   The agents would have required only a modicum of sports gambling knowledge to easily see the absurd (and telling) betting patterns on Donaghy’s games.  Once in possession of these objective data, they could have then pressed Donaghy on his key assertions, namely that he (1) relied on inside information to win his bets (as opposed to manipulating game outcomes with his officiating), and that he thus (2) wagered on games officiated by others and was just as successful in those bets as he was in those he officiated.  Unfortunately, the FBI didn’t do this and, without any objective data and without gambler Battista’s cooperation or electronic betting records, had little to no means to vet these crucial Donaghy assertions.  Of note, it is true that when co-conspirator Tommy Martino decided to cooperate with the government he debunked these key Donaghy claims.  Problematically, Martino had perjured himself before the grand jury (which is partly why he flipped) and thus the FBI/USAO relying on his words on any matter of consequence would have been imprudent.

2 In its recent statement on the ESPN the Magazine article, the NBA continues to place great emphasis on its Pedowitz Report, noting the following in support of its findings (emphasis added):

The Tim Donaghy matter concluded over a decade ago with a full investigation by the federal government, Donaghy’s termination from the NBA, and his conviction for criminal acts.  At the same time, at the request of the NBA, former prosecutor Larry Pedowitz conducted an independent investigation of Donaghy’s misconduct and issued publicly a 133-page report.  This report was based on an extensive review of game data and video as well as approximately 200 interviews, thousands of pages of documents, and consultation with various gambling and data experts.
As I noted soon after the Pedowitz Report was released, the report was destined to be superficial for a few vital reasons.  Not included among the interview subjects were each of the scandal’s key figures – Donaghy and his co-conspirators; and the federal government refused to share non-public information with the Pedowitz team.  Interested parties should also see my “Some Suggested Research for the NBA” (an extended version of this appears in Gaming the Game).

3 This is why I viewed it as so noteworthy when, in 2016, former NBA Commissioner David Stern was quoted about the Pedowitz Report saying, “…our own analysis didn’t come to any particular conclusion.”

Speaking of Stern, please recall that while still in his position he was asked (at a press conference during the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend) about the findings presented in Gaming the Game, resulting in this exchange:


I don't know if you've seen this new book about the Donaghy scandal, but having read it myself, three of the four conspirators have said something on the record to somebody, and they are unanimous - the fourth, by the way, is Donaghy himself - and they are unanimous that he was really good at winning bets on games he officiated, really bad at winning bets on any other games, and he was gambling on games since 2003 until he left the league and the report that he looked at 16 games. How confident can we be that there are not fixed games in the NBA?
Stern’s answer (emphases added):

I have not read the new book or seen it yet, although I'm happy with each All-Star Weekend or Finals to present an opportunity for a convicted felon to issue yet another tome on his misdeeds.  So we'll see if there's anything new suggested, Mr. Pedowitz will be asked to continue to review it as we have with each one that has been published, because we want to make sure that we get to the bottom of it all. But right now, I don't have any more information other than I know you always confirm your sources; so I commend you to confirming the convicted felon's sources.
 After reading Stern’s dodge (and insult) of an answer, I posted the following:

As I have taken pains to point out explicitly in Gaming the Game, and others have already been quick to note (see, e.g., here), my new book would have been completed in the Spring of 2008 if the research simply entailed interviewing pro gambler Jimmy Battista (as my wife and kids will attest!).  Thus, I am glad Stern at least noted that he had not seen the book, because anyone who reads GTG will easily understand this project absolutely consumed me for almost 3 years such that little of the book rests solely on Battista's words.

Readers may wish to know that although Larry Pedowitz was gracious enough to humor my inquiries, the NBA and the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) each refused to entertain my correspondence on several occasions.  Given the correspondence and how much I was doing in this area of inquiry, it is difficult for me to believe the Commissioner didn't at least have a rough idea of what I had discovered in the course of interviewing federal law enforcement officials, pro gamblers (beyond Battista) and others, in addition to reviewing confidential FBI files, court documents, betting records and other objective betting data.
To my knowledge, as of February 2019 neither the NBA nor the NBRA has ever publicly discussed the book’s findings.

A synopsis of Gaming the Game, along with dozens of review comments, can be found here.


My years of extensive research on the NBA betting scandal, including and especially beyond what is detailed in Gaming the Game, are chronicled and archived here.