Former Referee Tim Donaghy Speaks Out About NBA Game Fixing [VIDEO]
New revelations about the 2007 NBA betting scandal were released. Former referee Tim Donaghy spoke to ESPN about the time period and his gambling habits. The divorced father of four killed time on the links during the offseason. What started off as harmless bets on country club golfing quickly spiraled. Soon enough, there were trips to casinos. But what really got Donaghy started was a football pool. This violated NBA rules, which prohibit any gambling outside of horse racing, but Donaghy said, ” I started thinking — or should I say, rationalizing: S—, everyone on the staff bets. I was like a pot smoker moving up to cocaine.”
Then, in 2003, Donaghy fell hard. While most think that the 2007 betting scandal was squashed the season it started, court documents show that the bets began in 2003. Donaghy and a friend named Jack Concannon were sitting alone in a clubhouse after a golf outing when the two got the idea to bet on the NBA. But it wasn’t just basketball. It was Donaghy’s own game.
The month he started, he only bet on two or three games. Sure, it wasn’t much. But by the next season, Donaghy put wagers on 30 to 40 of his own games. According to Donaghy’s memoir, he pulled in so much cash he didn’t know where to hide it.
The first persons to be tipped off were a group of bookies called “The Animals.” Originally from Philadelphia, they had landed in Curacoa to set up an online sports-book. A bookie named Pete “Rhino” Ruggieri realized that Concannon was placing an odd amount of money on certain NBA games. He was also winning on those games like never before. How did an insurance salesman go from losing $100 bets to placing winning bets of $5,000 and beating bookies? Ruggieri studied the wagers. Back in Philly, he had played golf sometimes with Concannon and he recalled that he was friends with Donaghy. Rhino’s mind raced. Who were the refs? Sure enough, every game Concannon bet big on, Donaghy was one of the three names out on the court.
So what did the Animals do? Rhino, Jimmy “Bah-Bah” Battista and the rest of the group put their money down. They made bets from $30,000 to $100,000 and they won a lot more than that. The only thing they had to do was not let the scheme out. Other than that, if Donaghy reffed and Concannon bet, they covered the spread close to 70% of the time.
By 2006, the Animals Curacoa-based sports-book had closed shop. Battista was back in Philly. He was still following Donaghy and Concannon but there was an issue. How do you remain incredibly accurate but not draw attention to yourself? So Battista called up a friend named Tommy Martino. “You’ve got to arrange a meeting with Donaghy,” Battista said.
The two met in December 2006. Battista told him he knew all about the scheme and offered a deal. There were two conditions: 1) Never bet with Concannon again and 2) in exchange for giving Battista his picks, he’d get $2,000 per game. Donaghy excused himself to the bathroom. “He gets so pale sometimes, he turns yellow, I swear to god,” Martino said. “In the bathroom, Donaghy is like, ‘Tom, you f—ing believe it?’ And I said, ‘What?’ I’m thinking he’s going to say: Oh s—! It got out to Battista that I’m giving games to Jack! But no. You know what he says? He goes: ‘Do you believe it?’ He goes, ‘Concannon was making all that money and not giving me anything!'”
In the NBA, spread movements of greater than 1.5 are severe. Millions have to come in. On Battista’s first game, the spread jumped from 2.5 to 4. The pair walked away with wads of $100, the diameter of an orange. It was easy money.
Then, Phil Scala came into the picture. He was the boss of the FBI unit that was in charge of keeping an eye on the Gambino crime family. One of the snitches came to him with some information. There was an NBA ref who was working with some bookies. No names, no one at the center of the scheme was in the Gambino family, but they’d also figured out the formula and were pulling in millions on this ref’s game.
For close to a year, the FBI worked on the case. Then, one day, an agent came into Scala’s office. Scala recalled, “He said, ‘We found the guy. We found the referee.'” Sure enough, it was Donaghy.
In April 2007, the agency made its moves. Battista, just a few days out of drug rehab, was greeted by FBI agents at his door. Former NBA commissioner David Stern was briefed on the situation. Both Martino and Donaghy made statements.
In late 2007, Donaghy sat down with Aron Kulle, a friend who ran youth sports leagues out of a community center. Donaghy volunteered his time there. While the kids played directly outside the office, Donaghy cracked.
“He knew what the spreads were going to be. He knew how to control it. He knew how to get into other referees’ heads too, about different players because the other refs would follow him. He admitted to fixing the games,” Kulle recalled.
“If what you’re telling me is true,” Kulle replied to his friend, “you’re gonna be rich.”
Donaghy would be sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. One unnamed gambler said , “He also told me they were betting millions and he was an idiot not to ask for more.”