Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating allegations that at least two players on the 1978-79 Boston College basketball team accepted payoffs to fix college basketball games, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The allegations came to light during an unrelated federal investigation into the Decemeber 1978 theft of $5.8 million -- the largest cash robbery in the nation's history -- from the Lufthansa cargo terminal at New York's Kennedy International Airport.
A key federal informant in the Lufthansa case, convicted felon Henry Hill, has told federal officials that he paid off the players during the 1978-79 season, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The payoffs are believed to have ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 per game for each players.
Also, an associate of Hill has told investigators that he and Hill, along with a convicted Pittsburgh drug dealer, traveled to Boston during that same season to witness one of the allegedly fixed games, sources said.
Sources said yesterday that Boston College officials which involve the shaving of points, affecting the final point spread of a game on which betting has occurred.
Boston College Athletic Director William J. Flynn confirmed last night that there is a federal investigation under way. "The Justice Department did inform Boston College that they intended to talk to certain former student basketball athletes from a few years back," Flynn said. "However, they did assure us that neither the university or any of its coaches and employes were under investigation."
Flynn also said federal officials told him no players on this year's team are under investigation.
He said federal officials "seem to be investigating an isolated, small group" that played on previous teams. "We are certainly hopeful there is nothing to it," said Flynn, a past president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Flynn said the Justice Department notified the school sometime late last fall. "We're upset there is an inquiry about anything," he said.
He called BC Coach Tom Davis an "outstanding coach." Flynn said he believes it would be difficult for individual players on Davis' team to fix games because Davis makes a practice of using many players in each game.
The U.S. attorney declined to confirm or deny that an investigation was going on.
Hill and others involved in the basketball fixing investigation are associated with members of a New York crime group that authories suspect master-minded the dramatic and still largely unsolved Lufthansa robbery.
The FBI has named James Burke, who was convicted with Hill for extortion in 1972, as the man behind the Lufthansas holdup. Hill has told prosecutors that Burke was involved in the alleged fixing. Burke has been linked by the FBI to Paul Vario Sr., a reputed crime figure whose name has appeared in testimony regarding two racing fixes in the past.
The separate investigations into the Lufthansa robbery and the possible basketball fixing are being conducted by the Brooklyn, N.Y., Organized Crime Srike Force, the same office that supervised much of the Abscam probe.
It has been 20 years the last point shaving scandals rocked college basketball. The earlier basketball scandals, which began with the implication of the 1949-50 City College of New York national championship team, continued sporadically until 1961 and ultimately involved more than 100 players at 40 colleges, including some of the most well-known players and teams at the time.
The investigation is focusing on allegations that some players attempted to adjust the victory margin of Boston College so the team would win by a margin below the point spread set by professional oddmakers.
Gamblers participating in point-shaving schemes take advantage of inside information and place bets that can result in huge profits.
However, point-shaving schemes are difficult to complete and do not always succeed. In the case of some of the Boston College games under investigation, the alleged point-shaving attempts did not succeed, according to sources.
Sources said one of the gamblers participating in the scheme approached a BC player and persuaded him to shave points. That player in turn allegedly enlisted the aid of at least one other player, sources said.
Hill has told federal officials that he met the players in a Boston hotel room and handed them the payoffs, believed to have amounted to between $1.000 and $2,000 per game for each player.