Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sports media is willingly allowing its audiences to be suckered by former NBA referee Tim Donaghy (again) and Philly’s Mike Missanelli is Exhibit A

As someone then deep into the research and writing about the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal, I purchased former NBA referee Tim Donaghy’s book when it was published in 2009.  I also listened to many of his related interviews at the time.  Almost immediately, I realized it was simply the latest Donaghy con job, and couldn’t believe practically no one in the media caught onto the hustle.  Instead, the vast majority of the media actually facilitated Donaghy’s scam! 

As a white-collar crime researcher with an interest in literary frauds, I have often referred to Donaghy’s book as the sports version of James Frey’s now-infamous A Million Little Pieces (made popular by Oprah Winfrey, first exposed by The Smoking Gun).  Because many sports media hosts have uncritically accepted Donaghy’s myriad demonstrable falsehoods, enabling and assisting his con, I have on occasion attempted to correct the record.  After all, this is one of the most significant scandals in the history of U.S. sports.  I began documenting Donaghy’s ongoing fraud and related scams almost a decade ago and can imagine what someone like James Randi experienced debunking hustlers like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff years ago.

Interested parties can revisit some of these matters online (see, e.g., my evidence-based assessments of Donaghy’s claims broken down by outright falsehoods vs unsupported claims [likely to be falsehoods]; and my critiques of his 2009-10 media appearances here and here). 

One of the media personalities who gave Donaghy a forum to hustle his audience in 2009 was Mike Missanelli,of 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia.  In fact, at the end of Donaghy’s (essentially fact-free and shrewdly ingratiating) appearance, host Missanelli wished Donaghy good luck, adding, “I hope your life evolves to the point where you really can be proud of it.”

Among dozens of insulting and offensive Donaghy appearances over the past decade, Missanelli’s “interview” was among the most problematic.  Missanelli is a former journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a law school graduate, and listeners are told they can expect something more than the standard sports radio talk show shock jock shtick.  Indeed, Missanelli recently admonished someone on Twitter in this regard, stating, “Obviously, u haven’t heard my interviews, so one day you’ll learn,” while his on-air colleague tweeted, “Mike doesn’t just ‘interview’, he cross-examines.”

Given all the above, I was eagerly anticipating Missanelli’s 11/1/19 interview of Donaghy and his lifelong friend/ NBA betting scandal co-conspirator Tommy Martino as they promoted Martino’s dubious film, Inside Game.* 

What follows is an evidenced-based review of the vital claims Donaghy (and to a far lesser extent, his fellow conspirator/convicted fraudster Martino) made to Missanelli and his audience.  As you’ll see, nothing has changed since 2009 when it comes to Missanelli’s command of/regard for the facts.

For starters, Missanelli had Donaghy and Martino in the studio together, which should have afforded golden opportunities to expose the many consequential issues and contradictions between them over what transpired during the scandal.  Perhaps the easiest string of questions which should have been asked concerns the film’s official description, which reads (emphasis added):

In 2007, when NBA referee Tim Donaghy (Eric Mabius) got caught betting on games he worked, he said two men associated with the Gambino crime family - a bookie named Baba Battista (Will Sasso) and a drug dealer named Tommy Martino (Scott Wolf) - threatened to kill his family if he didn't give them gambling picks. That's what Donaghy told the FBI, that's what he told 60 Minutes, and that's what he testified in court. But that's not what really happened. That's not even close. INSIDE GAME is the untold true story of one of the biggest scandals in sports history.
You are reading that correctly.  The promo for the Martino film explicitly states Donaghy lied about matters of vital importance for more than a decade.  Was it too much to expect host Missanelli to alert his audience to this, and to then inquire about this fundamental curiosity – with Donaghy and Martino feet from him, no less?  If I had to guess, Missanelli and his crew were wholly unaware of these fundamentals (along with much else, as you’ll discover).

Please find below the most consequential matters about which Missanelli’s audience was (again) misinformed.  Anyone really paying attention will notice the questions are, themselves, predicated on Donaghy’s false narrative (Missanelli appears unaware of this, too).

The Donaghy-Martino appearance began with this exchange:

(1:33) MM: “Alright, here’s the story, in case you don’t know the story, but it’s pretty well known.  You [TD] provided inside info to gambling buddies off, primarily, a referee’s master list that came out in the morning, knowing the tendencies of certain refs. And the inside information you got on injuries and edicts from the League on how to balance calls, and you used that information to provide at first to a golfing buddy… Primarily you knew of referees’ tendencies to not like certain players or coaches and hence the calls would go against those particular guys, and that was one of your major assets in winning bets, right?”
(2:37): TD: “Oh, absolutely and we won at like an 80% clip.”
You will note host Missanelli doesn’t say the above is Donaghy’s (self-serving) story; it is presented to his audience as the story (i.e., as though its fact-based history).  And herein lies the problem with the entire appearance.  Missanelli is clearly unaware all of Donaghy’s key assertions have been debunked.  About this exchange, listeners should know Donaghy has always claimed he didn’t fix games and that his bets were instead based on “inside information”.  Furthermore, he argues he bet more on games he didn’t officiate during the ’06-07 season.  This would all make sense, of course, if “inside information” accounted for his betting interest and success, not his on-court behavior.  As I and others have explained in detail, with the exception of a few bets in the 2006-07 season (the last of the four NBA scandal seasons), all the wagers were on games Donaghy officiated.  The reason for that is obvious – those were the games he could influence with his on-court actions. The only reason professional gamblers learned of the scandal in the 2003-04 season was the outrageous winning percentage of certain bets exclusively on games Donaghy was officiating.  The very few bets placed in ‘06-07 on non-Donaghy games were losers, and pro gambler Battista thus stopped taking them.  Sources for that?  Pro gamblers, including those who proffered with the government, Battista, AND TOMMY MARTINO, who also cut a deal with the feds after perjuring himself in front of the grand jury; betting line data and betting records illustrate this clearly, also). 

The next area of Missanelli “inquiry” concerned the following Donaghy staples, each of which was uttered without a hint of evidence-based pushback from host Missanelli: (1) Donaghy decided to stop betting on games he officiated with his golfing buddy Jack Concannon in 2006 but then (2) “mob-connected” gambler Jimmy Battista (3) threatened him and his family unless he began betting with Battista.  Not one of these three items is true, so let’s see how Missanelli “probed” Donaghy and Martino (emphasis added):

(2:46) TD: “We [Jack Concannon and I] stopped at one point and Battista tricked Tommy into going down to the airport Marriott where I was staying one time.”
(3:30) MM: “Alright now, Tommy, you’re the kind of the go-between of this whole thing.  Battista is the mob-connected guy.  How does he know that you [Donaghy] have this expertise in picking these games?”
(3:36) TD: “Battista knows because they were watching what Concannon was betting with Pete Ruggieri, so they knew.”
(3:37) MM: “So there was a bookie…” (overtalking)
(3:38) TD: “There was a bookie named Pete Ruggieri that Jack was going through, and they saw that we were winning an enormous amount of the time so they started piggyback[ing] the bets and making a lot of money, so when we would stop you know that’s when they wanted to continue to get the picks and that’s when Battista went to Tommy.”
(4:02): MM “Alright, they strong arm you, Tommy, and there’s this meeting and, Tim, you are allegedly threatened by this semi-mob-connected guy that if you don’t cooperate he’s gonna hurt your family?”
(4:16): TD “That, and he’s gonna, uh, ya know, possibly expose the fact that I’ve been gambling, and my contract stated that I couldn’t place a bet at any time.”
(4:23): MM “So he’s gonna dime you out, basically? Alright, so now the extortion part is involved.”
(4:27): TD “Right, so either way I just felt like I was going to lose my job so I was gonna roll the dice and provide picks for him for the next three months [i.e., the rest of the NBA season].”
(4:35): MM “Now, people will look at this and go, ‘Okay, that’s a big justification.  Ya know this mob guy’s involved, and that’s only giving you an excuse to do what you what you’re really likin’ to do, anyway.’ How do you answer that?”
(4:52) TD: “I didn’t want to do it with Battista but I was gonna lose my job if he went to anybody in  the NBA and said I had been gambling for years, uh, so it was something ya know when he tricked Tommy into setting up the meeting that I agreed to do it.”
(12:05) MM: “Let me ask you, Tommy, did you know you were taking this guy [Donaghy] down the well? What were you feeling this whole time? He's making the bets, we got this other mob guy over here, you know that his life is going to be in ruin. What did you think your responsibility was? You grew up as friends.”
(12:20) TM: “Yeah, so Battista came to me and wasn't specific as to why -  the reason why - we had to have a meeting with Donaghy.  He just said to me, ‘Tommy, Timmy’s in trouble. We need to meet with Donaghy next time he's in Philadelphia.’ So, me being worried about Timmy, I said, ‘What the hell did he do now?’, ya know?  So…I said ‘Tim, when are you gonna be in Philly again?’ I didn't tell him about Battista. He said, ‘They’re playing the Celtics this day,’ and I said, ‘Ayyight, I'm gonna come down and see ya.’  On the way down Battista told me that he…Battista caught wind of the fact Timmy was betting through Jack Concannon and Pete Ruggieri.”
(13:00) MM: “So you had to tell him that?”
(13:02) TM: “That's what Battista told me.”
(13:04) MM: “And that was it. You’re on the hook.”
(13:05) TM: “That was it. And we went in there and it was different. Batista held up a napkin with ‘2k’ on it.  And said, ‘Timmy, give me the games not Jack’.”
And one last point re “the mob” threatening Donaghy came a bit later (emphasis added):

(16:00) MM: You quote a mob capo in your book, Mike Franzese, who has since reformed himself and become a born again Christian or whatever and his message to you because you communicated with him was that you're always going to be looking over your shoulder.  Do you feel that?
(16:16) TD: For sure. I mean, I think I definitely feel that way.
Whew!  Where to begin debunking this utter nonsense?  Perhaps the best way for someone like Missanelli to understand the core problem here is to pose him this question: “Would you ask Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson if he is ‘always looking over his shoulder’ in fear of ‘the mob’?”  Of course not.  Why, then, ask Donaghy?  The only reason – like all else with this narrative – is because Missanelli bought Donaghy’s self-serving bs in the first place.  Indeed, the predicate of the entire appearance and “interview” starts with Donaghy’s misinformation.  Missanelli is apparently unaware these matters were vetted by federal authorities (who LOVE hyping organized crime cases, by the way, especially in New York, where this case originated), and resolved in court (not to mention the considerable follow-up research by many data-driven folks).  The feds never discussed this as an organized crime case (in court docs/proceedings or in the press), and they never viewed it as an extortion case.  This level of historical ignorance in the media is a problem.  My goodness, we have known all of this for a decade. 

As a brief refresher: Judge Carol Bagley Amon (1) described the conspiracy among Donaghy, Battista, and Martino as a business “arrangement”, before she (2) added that Donaghy was “more culpable” than his co-conspirators (not exactly what you’d hear if Donaghy was an extortion victim, which is why Battista was never even charged with extortion).  Furthermore, following his proffer sessions and guilty plea negotiations, the government wrote that 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.”  Is Missanelli aware of any of this? 

Want more details about this specific absurdity?  Okay, please consider this…especially given current events.

Since Donaghy is out hyping Tommy’s MARTINO’s film WITH MARTINO, perhaps it might be enlightening to see what MARTINO told the FBI about the above.  The following are from FBI 302 summaries of MARTINO interviews contained in his confidential FBI file (again, recall he proffered with the government after he got caught perjuring himself in front of the grand jury).
Actual context re that December 2006 meeting at the PHL Marriott between Donaghy, MARTINO, and Battista (“Baba”) occurred, according to MARTINO?

“Donaghy complained that Concannon was not giving him any money so he wanted to start giving picks to Baba.”
What about Battista allegedly threatening Donaghy, according to MARTINO? (emphasis added)

“Martino never heard Baba threaten Donaghy in any way.  Martino had the impression that Donaghy wanted to provide the picks to Baba for Donaghy’s own financial gain.  Martino was not aware of Baba ever threatening Donaghy that he was going to hurt Donaghy or tell the NBA about the betting.”
On this consequential matter, you should also know that when Donaghy was released from prison in 2009 and hyping his book, he referred to MARTINO as a “Gambino Crime Family member/associate” who threatened him and his family.  When it suited his purposes (garnering attention for business interests, minimizing his culpability in the scheme, inviting sympathy), Donaghy said Battista and MARTINO (men he knew for years) were mobsters, assuming – correctly – the media wouldn’t pause to consider the FBI and other law enforcement agencies never made such claims (despite an interest and motive to do so if it was remotely plausible).

When Martino recently approached Donaghy with an offer to help market Martino’s 2019 film, Donaghy altered his talking points to split Martino from Battista; now Martino, too, was a mob extortion victim and no longer a “Gambino Crime Family member/associate” doing the threatening.  And Martino is clearly willing to allow Donaghy to spout his nonsense as long as it helps the film project.  As I have chronicled elsewhere, this is now at least the fifth Martino version of events (starting with his perjurious testimony before a grand jury), each suited to the needs of the moment.  Hopefully at some point people will grasp the latest scam going on with these two.

Oh, and since folks like Missanelli believe “the mob” threatened Donaghy, which of course according to Donaghy was the reason for his 2006-07 NBA season crimes, please also know the following. 
Instead of being “relieved” pro gambler Battista went into rehab (as Donaghy claims – after all, now “the mob” wasn’t making him fix/bet his games so he stopped!), here is what really happened.  Battista went into rehab for addiction to prescription pills on 3/18/07.  The scheme continued, however, simply with a different pro gambler, Pete Ruggieri (often wrongly identified, as in this “interview”, as a “bookie”).  Like Battista, Ruggieri isn’t a mobster whatsoever, and like Battista he never threatened Donaghy to keep fixing/betting games he officiated.  Once Ruggieri correctly assessed the scheme after a handful of games officiated by Donaghy (betting lines were moving considerably – word was out the games were being fixed), Ruggieri shut the scheme down.  Source for that?  Pete Ruggieri.  Don’t believe Ruggieri (who, like Donaghy, Martino, and other pro gamblers, cooperated with the feds)?  

Here are the relevant portions of what MARTINO told the FBI:

“Around March 2007, Baba went into drug rehab.  At that point, [Donaghy] told Martino that he wanted Martino to continue the scheme with Pete Ruggieri.”
And (emphasis added)…

“After Ruggieri decided to shut the scheme down, Donaghy pushed Martino to take one more game.”
If the media did its job they would notice Battista’s plea deal is for activities through March 2007 (when he went into rehab), while everyone else’s plea agreements are for activities through April 2007.  Now you know why.  It is simply a shrewd, self-serving Donaghy lie “the mob” was involved at all, much less that it accounted for Donaghy’s crimes in the ’06-07 season.  If Donaghy is looking over his shoulder for anything, it shouldn’t be for “the mob” it should be for a conscience.

Incredibly there is much more demonstrably absurd discussion in the 26-minute Donaghy-Martino appearance on Missanelli’s 11/1/19 show (e.g., retired FBI SSA Phil Scala’s supposed comments, Martino denying he was the source of the info re Donaghy’s alleged Las Vegas mistress, Donaghy’s book, Donaghy’s alleged addiction, the FBI and NBA investigations, etc.), but you get the point.

While I am open to the possibility media types like Missanelli may be aware of Donaghy’s falsehoods but consciously ignoring them for content, clicks, and ratings, I don’t believe that is what is happening.  Missanelli is clearly unaware of everything penned above, even though the information has been available for years.  I would love to know what the career hustlers could have said to Missanelli on air which would have sufficiently troubled him, causing him to realize this was all bs and alerting his audience to this reality.

With the evidenced-based critique of the Missanelli interview of Donaghy and Martino behind us, let’s return to host Missanelli ironically boasting of his probing interviewing skills.  Just in case you think this is being overstated, here is what one of his broadcast team members tweeted about the appearance:

It is sad to say, but I don’t believe this is radio shtick.  Rather, all evidence points to this radio crew (like plenty of others) being wholly unprepared for an evidenced-based interview, and thus the result was allowing Donaghy to manipulate and hustle their audience (again).  Indeed, after the 11/1/19 Donaghy appearance, Missanelli boasted he “just about cross-examined him.”

The Missanelli interview disgrace is unfortunately the rule with Donaghy's numerous media appearances, and I have yet to see an evidence-based exception in this round of attention.  That Missanelli is a former journalist and law school grad promoting himself as a serious analyst on a major platform, however, arguably makes it worse.


I went on to publish a critically-acclaimed and best-selling book on the scandal, along with presenting my findings at academic conferences and training law enforcement professionals, attorneys, etc. on the matter.  My work was also cited in a formal statement before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade hearing in 2016.

*I was invited by the producers to take part in the Martino film.  Once I grasped the scam, I turned it down without hesitation - they made it very clear historical accuracy was irrelevant and that profit, however achieved, was the only goal.  

Martino reached out personally to Battista, who turned the opportunity from his old friend down for the same reasons I did.  Unbeknownst to me until very recently, Battista was approached later for him to accept a fee to promote the film.  Want to guess who reached out - on repeated occasions - offering a fee to Battista, the “Gambino Crime Family member/associate” Tim Donaghy continues to say threatened him and his family in 2006?  Yep - Tim Donaghy!  Battista turned the money down again, of course, but not before Donaghy offered his early take on the film to Battista, texting, “Just an FYI I watch the movie.  In my mind you are portrayed the best buy the actor that plays you.  Me and Tommy come across as a little stupid and dumb.”

How people don’t get that Donaghy is a con artist (and worse) is a mystery to me.  Perhaps it is because prominent personalities like Mike Missanelli continue offering the discredited and disturbed Donaghy a comfortable, inviting forum, which implicitly affords Donaghy legitimacy and lends credibility to his bs. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali with Philly Black Mafia heavyweights Nudie Mims and Shamsud-din Ali

I recently came across this amazing photo (via@ meccapolis IG).  Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is flanked (l-r) by Philly Black Mafia legends Shamsud-din Ali and Nudie Mims (supposedly in 1980). 

Mims, also known as Ameen Jabbar, died in prison in 2012 while serving a life sentence for his role in one of the city’s most infamous crimes.  In 1971, Mims and some of his Black Mafia confederates robbed DuBrow’s Furniture Store in South Philly, killing one employee and setting many others on fire.  (The robbery/murder/arson is discussed @12:45 in the 2007 BET American Gangster episode,“Philly Black Mafia: ‘Do for Self’.”)  The Ali photo was likely taken while Mims was briefly out of prison following the May 1980 PA State Supreme Court granting of a retrial. 

Mims would soon be re-arrested after police executed a search warrant and discovered cocaine, a Thompson machine gun, an Israeli Army Uzi submachine gun, strainers, scales, and other drug-related equipment in his apartment.  When back in prison, Mims was crucial to major heroin deals in the Philadelphia area, working with Black Mafia and Italian-American organized crime figures.

Shamsud-din Ali (then known as Clarence Fowler) served time in prison for murder in the early 1970s until his conviction was overturned.  While in Philly’s notorious Holmesburg Prison, Fowler (like Mims years later in equally-infamous Graterford Prison) was an influential figure inside the institution and on the street. 

Shamsud-din Ali garnered national attention in 2005 when he was convicted of various racketeering charges in a massive federal corruption probe in Philadelphia which originated with a drug investigation.  He was sentenced to approximately 7 years in prison and was released in 2013. 

Fowler’s/Ali’s ties to the boxing world have spanned decades, as I have documented elsewhere.  As many know, his daughter Lakiha (“Kiki”) is married to another boxing legend, Mike Tyson.

For more on these fascinating and complicated circumstances, see my earlier post on Muhammad Ali and Philadelphia’s Black Mafia and/or:

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."

"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"

"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]"

"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."

"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.
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. 


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.