Ex-referee Donaghy insists bets didn't influence calls

Donaghy
Donaghy
Posted: December 07, 2009

Tim Donaghy may have thrown away his 13-year career for less than half a year's salary by gambling on NBA games he officiated. But once that ball was in the air, the top-tier referee and the pathological gambler almost became two separate persons, he says.

And they didn't help each other out. At least, not after tipoff.

In his first public statements since he was sentenced last year to 15 months in prison on gambling and wire-fraud charges, Donaghy insisted that he never used his position to increase his chances of winning a bet.

"I tried to put it out of my mind," he told Bob Simon in a "60 Minutes'' interview that aired last night. "And I think that I was able to do that."

Donaghy said he profited around $100,000 during 4 years of betting. He started gambling in 2003 with a golfing buddy. In late 2006, he began calling in picks - sometimes moments before game time - to James "Baba" Battista and Thomas Martino, two Philadelphia-area acquaintances who pleaded guilty last year to their involvement in the betting scheme.

Donaghy, a graduate of Cardinal O'Hara and Villanova, told Simon that he bet on "probably over 100 games.'' Asked how many of those games he officiated, he replied: "Uh, a lot."

But he's sticking to the story, detailed in his new book, "Personal Foul," that he was able to place winning bets 70 to 80 percent of the time using his inside knowledge of the game - not by shaving points.

"I knew that there were certain relationships that existed between referees and players, referees and coaches, and referees and owners that influence the point spreads in games," Donaghy said.

Federal prosecutors told a New York judge last year that "there is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.'' They also stated, however, that he had acknowledged that he "compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance.''

Lawrence Pedowitz, the former federal prosecutor hired by the NBA to investigate its officiating program, uncovered nothing that would "contradict the government's conclusion," writing in his report: "It seems plausible to us that Donaghy may not have manipulated games."

In fact, Donaghy may have had little financial incentive to make intentionally incorrect calls to win bets, according to the Pedowitz report. Working as a referee paid much more than he was winning by gambling on basketball games, and his performance reviews were based largely on the accuracy of his playcalling.

Phil Scala, the former FBI special agent who investigated Donaghy, also has his back on this issue.

"Watching the tapes, we could see that there was never something outlandish where you could see he called a foul or he omitted a foul because he wanted to see a certain team win," Scala said on "60 Minutes.''

But Battista's attorney, Jack McMahon, has said that Donaghy's betting record was much better when he was on the court, which he said raises the question of whether he was quietly manipulating the score. Martino's attorney, Vicki Herr, said that she, too, believes that Donaghy's officiating affected the score, at least some of the time.

"He's very articulate. I could see why the FBI wanted to believe him, but I know he's not'' being completely truthful about whether his gambling interfered with his on-court performance, Herr said.

Scala told the Daily News yesterday that the FBI had uncovered evidence that other gamblers may have been piggybacking on the Donaghy-Battista-Martino operation and using that information to funnel money to the New York mafia, as well as organized-crime organizations in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

The Donaghy probe began when agents overheard chatter about a crooked referee on an existing wiretap set up to investigate the Gambino crime family. But Scala said it was unclear whether the gambling trio was aware that Donaghy's picks might have been disseminated to others.

"I don't know if Battista, Martino and Donaghy knew the actual scope of where the information was going and who was making money off it,'' he said. "The mob is successful if they adhere to the principles of the underworld. They're not people who talk about how they generate their money."

Scala described Battista as a low-level mob associate, although McMahon always has denied that his client has any mob connections.

"I'm as connected to the Gambino family as Jimmy Battista,'' McMahon said. "Jimmy's not connected to anybody.''

Donaghy, meanwhile, is trying to piece his life back together, yet continuing to cause heartache for the NBA. His book accuses the league of using referee assignments and other behind-the-scenes methods to boost revenue by extending playoff series and providing favorable treatment to marquee players.

The Havertown native said he hasn't watched a basketball game in 2 years. It'd be too painful.

"I would wish that I was out on the floor refereeing it,'' he said.

Responding to the "60 Minutes'' segment, NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement last night that Pedowitz' investigation "revealed that the NBA's core values of neutrality and accountability were not compromised by anyone other than Mr. Donaghy."

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