CHICAGO — A federal court jury Thursday convicted sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom of defrauding two universities by using cash to lure college athletes into signing improper contracts, and of threatening to harm clients at other schools if they tried to renege.
The jury deliberated 40 hours over six days before convicting Walters, 58, and Bloom, 29, both based in New York, on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud. They each face up to 55 years in prison and fines of up to $1.25 million.
Bloom was in tears and Walters looked downcast as the verdicts were read in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge George Marovich, where the trial began last month.
Attorneys for both men promised to appeal the guilty verdicts.
"We'll take them in the next round," Walters said. "We'll be vindicated."
U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas called the trial a "war for both sides," but he said there was a message in the verdicts.
"I think the message is that the federal criminal laws apply across the board to the universities, to the athletes and the agents who do business with them," Valukas said.
Marovich set a hearing Thursday on the government's request for forfeitures of $250,000 by Walters and $125,000 by Bloom. Under racketeering laws, the government can seek to recover profits that result from an illegal scheme.
The judge also set sentencing for the week of May 23.
Walters and Bloom were convicted of conspiring to defraud six schools--Big Ten Conference members Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue, as well as national football champion Notre Dame and Temple. But they were convicted of actually defrauding only two--Michigan and Purdue.
The jury acquitted Walters and Bloom of mail fraud counts involving Michigan State and Iowa and was not required to decide the facts regarding Notre Dame and Temple because only two fraudulent acts were required to meet the racketeering standard.
The trial featured testimony from a diverse group. Included were a handful of professional athletes, entertainer Dionne Warwick, star prosecution witness and admitted Colombo crime family member Michael Franzese, whose reputation Walters and Bloom used to keep clients in line, and Michigan Athletic Director Bo Schembechler, who expressed outrage at the fraud he felt was perpetrated on his school.
Defense attorneys hoped to put college sports on trial, revealing a system rife with athletes who took questionable academic courses to remain eligible and administrators who overlooked a variety of infractions to keep revenue-generating football teams on the field.
Some of the more dramatic testimony came from NFL players Everett Gay and Maurice Douglass.
Gay, who plays for the Detroit Lions, testified that Bloom threatened to have someone break his legs when he talked about terminating his contract with the two.
Douglass, who plays for the Chicago Bears, told the court that he signed with Walters and Bloom while at Kentucky, accepted cash and cars and then told them he had signed with another agent.
Bloom threatened to have "somebody rough me up," Douglass said, unless he returned the money the agents gave him.