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Booster says he gave lavish gifts to Miami football players

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By PFW staff

A University of Miami booster says he provided illegal benefits to a number of Hurricanes players, including several prominent NFL players.

The revelations came to light in an investigative article by Yahoo! Sports posted Tuesday. The website said it conducted 100 hours of jailhouse interviews over 11 months with Nevin Shapiro, a UM booster who was imprisoned for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

Over an eight-year period, according to Shapiro, he funneled thousands of dollars in benefits to athletes at Miami with the knowledge or direct participation of at least seven football and basketball coaches at the school, in clear violation of NCAA rules. Besides cash, Shapiro says he provided to athletes such things as the services of prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.

Among Shapiro's allegations were that some of the benefits were provided to the players by his partner at Axcess Sports & Entertainment, Michael Huyghue, then a sports agent and now the commissioner of the United Football League. Such benefits were provided as recruiting tools for the sports agency, Shapiro said.

"It's just fantasy," Huyghue told The Associated Press. "He never had any role in my company." Huyghue said he signed three Miami players in seven years. He said Shapiro wasn't a runner and he didn't represent any players but did invest $1.5 million in his agency in 2001, and that the two spoke only occasionally.

"He didn't have the acumen to represent players," Huyghue said.

Among the more prominent NFL players mentioned in the report, and some of the benefits they allegedly received from Shapiro:

  • Patriots NT Vince Wilfork: A $50,000 lump sum payment, separate multiple cash gifts in the thousands of dollars, and three game bounty payments totaling $1,250.
  • Giants CB Antrel Rolle: Approximately $40,000, a $7,500 Jacob the Jeweler watch and $1,500 in game bounties.
  • Niners RB Frank Gore: Between $20,000 and $30,000 in cash.
  • Bears WR-PR Devin Hester: Approximately $3,000 for an engagement ring, $7,500 in game bounties, cash for rims for Hester's sport utility vehicle and assorted clothing and entertainment.
  • Former Redskins S Sean Taylor, who was murdered in a 2007 home invasion: Allegedly received a pair of diamond-studded dog tags from Buchwald Jewelers for approximately $15,000, and $3,000 in game bounties.
  • Broncos RB Willis McGahee: Unspecified cash gifts, $2,000 in cash bounties, two tailored suits worth about $2,000, and plane tickets for McGahee's girlfriend and a second woman to attend the 2002 Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.
  • Ravens LB Tavares Gooden: A $7,500 Jacob the Jeweler watch, a suit and assorted clothing, a job with the Miami Beach Police Athletic League, and a studio apartment that Shapiro owned and let Gooden use for one to two months.

A spokesman for the university told Yahoo! Sports that the school is fully cooperating with the NCAA to get to the bottom of Shapiro's allegations.

Some of Shapiro's allegations about the university's athletic program came to light as a result of charges that he misappropriated nearly $83 million in investor funds with a fraudulent grocery distribution business. His guilty plea in that case resulted in a 20-year prison sentence. Shapiro's cooperation with federal prosecutors regarding this Ponzi scheme, which involved fraud and money laundering, opened the door to the revelation of his activities at Miami, according to Yahoo! Sports.

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