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NCAA fires head of enforcement after stinging review of Miami case

NCAA President Mark Emmert cites 'embarrassment' as upheaval continues, some reportedly linked to USC and UCLA cases. Missteps and insufficient oversight are found in Miami case involving booster.

February 19, 2013|By David Wharton, Los Angeles Times
  • In early 2011, Nevin Shapiro contacted the NCAA to say he had given cash and gifts to Miami athletes.
In early 2011, Nevin Shapiro contacted the NCAA to say he had given cash and… (WFOR / Associated Press )

The NCAA has ousted its head of enforcement after an external review that confirmed serious misdeeds by investigators in the University of Miami case.

The 52-page report represents yet another black eye for the collegiate governing body, which had already come under scrutiny for its handling of recent cases involving USC, UCLA and Penn State.

"This is something that is an embarrassment to the association and our staff," President Mark Emmert said. "This is not a good situation at all."

The replacement of Julie Roe Lach as vice president of enforcement follows a string of reported resignations and firings among enforcement staff members.

Although Emmert refused to comment on personnel actions, he said: "Any time you have significant turnover, obviously it's a challenge."

Not all of the upheaval has resulted from the Miami case. Multiple people close to the situation, but not authorized to speak, told The Times that investigator Abigail Grantstein was fired after allegations that she prejudged UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility before all the facts of the case were gathered.

NCAA officials face additional scrutiny from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who has portrayed them as potentially malicious for the way they dealt with former USC football assistant Todd McNair in the Reggie Bush sanctions. McNair is suing the NCAA for defamation.

Monday's report did not address either of these local incidents, focusing instead on the Miami investigation, which now pushes forward after being put on hold for a month. A notice of allegations could be delivered to the school as early as Tuesday.

But the case has been weakened by what the external review characterized as missteps and insufficient oversight.

"We have been wronged in this investigation," Miami President Donna E. Shalala said. "And we believe that this process must come to a swift resolution, which includes no additional punitive measures beyond those already self-imposed."

The Miami scandal centers on Nevin Shapiro, a former booster imprisoned for masterminding a $930-million Ponzi scheme. In early 2011, Shapiro contacted the NCAA to say he had given cash and gifts to Miami athletes.

According to the review by independent counsel Kenneth Wainstein, NCAA officials — who lack subpoena power — were struggling to persuade other key witnesses to cooperate. Shapiro's attorney, Maria Elena Perez, suggested a plan.

For a fee, she could depose these witnesses as part of her client's unrelated bankruptcy proceeding. The NCAA could give her a list of questions to ask.

An NCAA investigator, Ameen Najjar, and two of his supervisors — including Lach — took this proposal to chief operating officer Jim Isch, who approved paying Perez for her services. But the NCAA's legal department rejected the idea on grounds that it violated policy.

At that point, the report said, Najjar sent a text message to Perez: "I ran into a problem with our legal dept concerning 'retaining' you but there is a way around it."

Perez ultimately deposed two men — including Sean Allen, a former assistant equipment manager at Miami — on the NCAA's behalf, adding valuable evidence to the case.

The arrangement was not discovered until Perez billed the NCAA for approximately $57,115. The association said it paid her about $18,000.

Wainstein's report also found that, to facilitate communications with Shapiro, the NCAA spent about $8,200 to buy him a disposable mobile phone and pay for his use of the prison telephone system.

Lach and Tom Hosty, the enforcement staff's managing director, claimed Najjar had assured them his "way around" had earned approval from NCAA lawyers. In fact, he had never shared it with the legal department.

Now Lach has been replaced by Jonathan Duncan, a sports law attorney who will serve as enforcement's interim vice president. Najjar and Richard Johanningmeier, a former enforcement supervisor, are also gone.

"We need to make sure we have the right people in place," Emmert said.

Everything from the Perez depositions has been expunged from the Miami investigative record, Wainstein said. He estimated this "tainted" information accounts for about 20% of the Miami case.

As the investigation proceeds, the new interim enforcement head will conduct a broad review of department policies and procedures.

"We'll be doing that in the coming weeks and months to make sure that our membership has confidence not just in what we do but how we do it," Emmert said.

The president came under fire during a Monday teleconference as he was asked repeatedly whether he should face some type of penalty given that the NCAA is holding coaches more accountable for the misdeeds of their assistants.

"If the [NCAA] executive committee believes that some disciplinary action toward me needs to be taken," he said, "then I'm sure they will."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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