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A Bush Precedent

Eleven years ago, then-USC tailback Shawn Walters was accused, and punished, after allegations similar to what the Trojans' 2005 Heisman winner now faces

October 13, 2006|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Shawn Walters reaches into his pocket, pulls out a jangling set of keys and places one on the table.

"Look at this," he says, pointing to a cardinal-colored house key emblazoned with "USC" in gold letters. "I love USC. I have no qualms with USC and I never will."

It's been 10 years since Walters carried the football for the Trojans, and a little more than a decade since his career was derailed by scandal.

In 1995, USC suspended the running back for taking money and other benefits from a fledgling sports agent -- allegations similar to those currently faced by Reggie Bush.

Back then, the school took the unprecedented step of suing the agent, an action USC officials privately say they might consider taking again if the football team were to face sanctions in the Bush case.

Like Bush, Walters faced allegations that he accepted money. Unlike Bush, who has said repeatedly that neither he nor his family did anything wrong, Walters acknowledged during a recent interview that members of his family did accept money.

If agents "can't get you directly, they're going to go to the next best thing," he said. "Your family."

When allegations were reported this spring that Bush's family had accepted extra benefits from an aspiring sports marketing agency, it spurred memories for Walters. He sees many parallels. With one more major difference:

While Bush is a multimillionaire, having been chosen second in the NFL draft, Walters was only briefly in an NFL camp and never played in a game as a professional.

"It totally destroyed my career," he said.

Until he was derailed, Walters was considered a potential pro prospect. At 6 feet and 225 pounds, he led the Trojans in rushing his freshman and sophomore seasons.

"I was in the best shape of my life," he said, recalling the prelude to the 1995 season. "I had worked out all summer, had a little hype coming behind me, and I just felt that I was going to have a breakout year."

Then, in September, the allegations hit.

According to a ledger that was obtained by The Times, Walters received nearly $16,000 in airline tickets, concert tickets, pocket money and other items from Oxnard-based Pro Manage Sports Agency. USC officials determined that $9,000 of that had been given to Walters.

Walters said then, and maintains today, that he never accepted anything more than money for hamburgers or haircuts from his roommates, who, unbeknownst to him, were recruiters working for Pro Manage. He agreed, however, to pay about $3,400 in restitution with hopes that his eligibility would be restored.

The NCAA initially refused, but USC appealed on Walters' behalf and, after sitting out the final nine games of the 1995 season, he was reinstated with the condition that he also sit out the first three games of the 1996 season.

As a senior, Walters never did get going, finishing with 164 yards in 51 carries. He said he went to training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997 but got hurt and was released. He tried to get into NFL Europe or the Canadian Football League but found no takers.

"That stigma from SC was following me," he said. "I don't think anybody wanted to deal with something like that."

The case also brought to a close the hopes Ventura County attorney Robert Troy Caron had of becoming a sports agent.

A personal injury lawyer, Caron said Pro Manage was the brainchild of his "clerks," friends and semipro football teammates who itched to stay close to the sport.

"They convinced me to open a sports agency and they would run it," Caron said recently. "My mistake was I didn't supervise very well."

USC sued Caron, alleging Pro Manage had interfered with the school's contractual relations with its athletes and had interfered with prospective business advantages for the university.

Caron said his attorneys wanted to subpoena USC coaches and administrators, "and show what's really going on with student athletes."

But Caron, a lifelong USC fan -- "I was named for USC. My father misses a game once every 10 years" -- quickly settled the case for $50,000.

"They filed a lawsuit as a way of making a strong statement, which I agreed with because they did establish institutional control," Caron said.

Players from USC, UCLA, Arizona and Utah were punished by the NCAA for allegedly receiving pagers, telephone credit cards, groceries, cash and other items from Pro Manage.

In August 1998, the State Bar of California put Caron on probation for a year and suspended him for 60 days. The suspension was stayed, allowing him to continue to practice law.

Now 47, Caron said his memories of Walters remain clear. They met through Melvin Nunnery, a former Hueneme High and Moorpark College player.

"He was a naive Texas kid out in the big city for the first time and his eyes were open in wonderment," Caron said of Walters. "He had nothing in the refrigerator, no clothes to wear. He was a college kid struggling.

"A lot of athletes you come across are takers, they want everything. Shawn never asked for anything."

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