CHICAGO — A federal judge sentenced sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom to prison Monday, saying he hopes their punishment helps bring "the rule of law" to big-time college sports.
Walters and Bloom were convicted in April of signing athletes before the athletes' college eligibility had expired, and of threatening some of the athletes with harm if they sought to break the agreements.
U.S. District Judge George Marovich said that the involvement of the agents, particularly Walters, with an organized-crime figure weighed heavily in his decision to sentence Walters to five years in prison and Bloom to three years.
"I wouldn't dream of breaking the law. That's not who I am," an almost inaudible Walters told the judge before sentencing.
Bloom said: "I am deeply sorry for what I've done. If I can be given a second chance, I'd like it."
Marovich said that although "there were no heroes" among the athletes and universities involved in the trial, Walters and Bloom still must pay.
The judge ordered each to serve five years' probation after leaving prison. Bloom also was ordered to finish paying back $145,000 to Paul Palmer, a running back with the Kansas City Chiefs who had sought to invest the money with Bloom. Walters was ordered to forfeit $250,000 to the government.
Walters, 57, and Bloom, 29, were convicted April 13 of racketeering, conspiracy and mail fraud after a five-week trial. Each had faced up to 55 years in prison.
After the sentencing, Walters and Bloom were released on bond for 30 days, pending appeals. Lawyers for both agents said they would appeal the convictions and sentences.
The agents were accused of:
--Paying athletes thousands of dollars to sign secret representation contracts before their college eligibility had expired, a violation of National Collegiate Athletic Assn. rules.
--Threatening some athletes with harm, including broken legs, to keep them from breaking the agreements.
--Cheating major universities out of scholarship money through the NCAA violation, which made the athletes ineligible to play.
Walters and Bloom were convicted of all counts except two of four mail-fraud charges, which concerned the defrauding of the universities.
Marovich said the case was notable for "the absence of any easily identifiable good guys."
The judge said: "I do want to give fair warning" to athletes, sports agents, university administrators and others involved in college athletics.
"You may be playing in a different ballgame and it might be called hardball. . . . There is a previously unrecognized player on the field--the rule of law."
Attorney Dan Webb, representing Bloom, said after the sentencing that he was gratified that the judge apparently agreed that "these universities are a cesspool of corruption, that they have destroyed amateur athletics in America."
Marovich said he was particularly concerned about the link between Walters and Michael Franzese, a jailed member of a New York organized-crime family who testified that he helped finance the sports-representation business started by Walters and Bloom.
"The infiltration of organized crime in this activity was an integral part of determining the sentence," U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas said after the hearing.
Walters represented entertainers for more than 30 years, and sought to represent athletes with Bloom only during the 1980s.
Walters said Monday that he had "lost every penny" of the nearly $1 million he invested in the sports business. "I didn't threaten anybody," he added.
Forty-three players who signed with Walters and Bloom avoided prosecution by agreeing to cooperate with the government, to perform community service and to reimburse their schools for part of their scholarships.
Wide receiver Cris Carter of the Philadelphia Eagles pleaded guilty in September to mail fraud and obstruction of justice. He said he took $5,000 from Walters and Bloom in 1986 while a junior at Ohio State.
In April he was fined $15,000 and ordered to perform 600 hours of community service.