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CIF to investigate possible rules violations in Dominguez High boys' basketball program

A local CIF official says transcripts will be sought from the trial of former coach Russell Otis and a recent Compton school district investigation. 'The gravity of this is severe,' the official says.

November 07, 2009|Lance Pugmire

High school sports federation officials will investigate possible rules violations involving the Compton Dominguez High boys' basketball team that came to light during the criminal trials of former basketball coach Russell Otis and in a recent internal investigation by the Compton Unified School District.

A spokesman for the Southern Section, a local branch of the California Interscholastic Federation, said his organization will seek transcripts of the trial that closed this week in which Otis was convicted of misdemeanor child molesting and acquitted of felony theft and forgery. A 2001 sexual molestation trial in which the coach was acquitted of assaulting one of his players will also be reviewed.

"The gravity of this is severe," said Thom Simmons, director of communications for the section. "If the information we've learned in news reports is confirmed by the court transcripts and the information gathered by the district, we will act on this in a very serious way."

Otis, 47, directed a program that won five state and 10 Southern Section championships from 1989 to 2008, but section Commissioner James Staunton said any of those titles could be vacated if information about rule-breaking emerges in a "credible form," such as "sworn courtroom testimony" or an official school district report.

In the recent trial, a player from Dominguez's 2008 Southern Section championship team testified Otis gave him money for cellphone minutes and also offered him shoes and clothing, which would be violations of high school rules intended to ensure competitive equity.

A transcript of the first trial includes testimony from other former players, including Steve Moore, a key contributor on Dominguez's 1999 and 2000 state title-winning teams, that they were allowed to drive Otis' Escalade and received money, clothing and food from the coach. Moore, a transfer from Santa Monica High, lived with the coach for a time.

Otis' attorney, Leonard Levine, told jurors the coach acted as a "hero" in Compton, helping athletes from broken homes and who struggled in poverty earn college scholarships. Levine said high school rules didn't account for the reality of managing young athletes living without viable financial support, such as former Dons player Robert Mandingo, another member of the 2008 team who testified he accepted money for clothing and food from Otis.

Coach "always made sure I was taken care of," Mandingo testified. "Like a father."

Simmons said that while Southern Section officials empathize with students such as Mandingo, whose struggles were addressed in court, "Russell Otis wasn't giving money or buying food for the best student or the best tuba player at his school. He did these things for the players who could help him win championships."

Section officials said they would also take into consideration a school district investigation that found three recent Dominguez basketball players -- including two who played on the championship 2008 team -- identified the same Compton home as their "new residence" after transferring to the school.

Otis is next due in court for a Dec. 1 hearing. He is appealing his misdemeanor conviction, which prosecutors said would require him to register as a sex offender and bar him from coaching and teaching minors again. He also faces a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court jury in Compton deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction on the felony charge Otis faced for meeting a minor for lewd purposes, and the county district attorney has not decided whether to retry the case.

Otis was acquitted of a charge that he used a forged letter to deposit a $15,000 check from Nike to the school district into his personal bank account.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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