Does anyone care if a college basketball player took gamblers' money and agreed to shave points?
That question today caused a delay in the sentencing of former Boston College reserve center Rick Kuhn, convicted six weeks ago on charges of conspiring to fix games. A jury decided that for maybe $15,000, Kuhn agreed to fix six games and enlisted two teammates to help. "The Judas of Boston College," the prosecutor called Kuhn, who faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and $45,000 fine.
The U.S. Department of Probation and Parole, as part of the New York sentencing procedure, gave Judge Henry Bramwell a "victim impact statement." In it the government said that as a result of Kuhn's crime "a great cloud now hangs over college basketball . . . the sport has been tarnished."
Kuhn's lawyer, Gary Zimmerman, challenged that idea. He asked for an adjournment of the sentencing to "investigate the impact of this case. . . (to see if) athletic departments view this in the same light as the probation department." The lawyer said although Kuhn is from Pittsburgh, papers there largely ignored the case, and he quoted Time magazine saying no one cared about the case outside Boston and New York.
Does anyone care?
Judge Bramwell does. From the bench today, he said he agreed with the probation statement. But because defense lawyers hadn't had time to prepare a rebuttal, Bramwell granted a two-week adjournment in sentencing.
So the game's latest scandal isn't resolved yet.
The sportswriter Jimmy Cannon called college basketball "the slot machine of sports." He saw money going in, money coming out. The first arrests of college fixers came in 1945. The shocking scandal came in '51, touching a dozen teams that included national champions City College of New York and Kentucky. Thirty-two players fixed 86 games in 17 states.
Ten years later, 1961, the scandal was larger in numbers: 50 players from 27 colleges fixing games in 22 states. But although only four of the '51 fixers went to jail, none of the '61 fixers was even prosecuted. The shock was gone. If anyone cared, it wasn't so you could tell. What they did was crank up the slot machine again.
And now, in the '81 scandal, the slot machine spit out someone called James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke.
Jimmy the Gent came to Judge Bramwell's courtroom this morning. He's one of five men convicted in the Boston College conspiracy. Jimmy the Gent wore basketball shoes today. They were white hightops.
Jimmy the Gent's basketball shoes fairly shone against the drab green of his prison coveralls. You could see the neck of Jimmy's undershirt. You also could see Jimmy was grumpy this morning. He had to be in federal court because of a case his lawyer says isn't a "real crime."
Real crimes are things like extortion and robbing $5.8 million from an airline armored car. The police think Jimmy the Gent drew up the game plan for taking Lufthansa's money. They finally threw him in the slammer for a parole violation. Jimmy the Gent has a police record going back to 1948. The cops think he's part of a big-time crime organization.
Jimmy the Gent has elegant gray hair, carefully styled so it ascends in waves. He wears elegant rimless glasses. This morning he wore prison coveralls and white basketball shoes because they have him locked up and only let him out to stand trial in this penny-ante basketball case.
His lawyer, anyway, thinks it's penny-ante.
"They should be out prosecuting real crimes," his lawyer, Michael Coiro, said flippantly to the judge, belittling the probation report. There are no victims in this crime, the reasoning goes. No one was forced at gunpoint to make an illegal bet. No one sank to the bottom of any river. This is penny-ante, Your Honor, just a little scam to pass time on a slow winter's day. If coaches can pay players to win, why can't gamblers pay them to win by a little less? It's like a slot machine, Your Honor.
The government's report sees point-shaving in darker terms. "While there are no direct victims of this crime in terms of financial loss except possibly the bookmakers," Judge Bramwell said, reading from the bench, " . . . the fact remains that the integrity of several innocent groups will now come into question. In a very broad sense, a great cloud now hangs over college basketball. This type of crime generates great suspicion toward players, coaches, officials and college educators."
This particular crime was discovered accidentally during the Lufthansa investigation when U.S. prosecutor Edward McDonald asked someone why he went to Boston and the thief replied, "To fix some BC basketball games." Just like that. No big deal. If it's that easy, the answer must be "No" to the question: Is a second-string center in a second-rate basketball program the only player in America fixing games?
Does anyone care?
Rick Kuhn sold out his school "for cocaine and quaaludes and a few thousand dollars," said Edward McDonald, a Boston College grad who had played freshman basketball. Handsome and tall, with an athlete's strut, 26 years old because he first tried pro baseball before going to BC, Rick Kuhn came to court this morning in a getting-married blue suit, blue tie and shiny black loafers.
He noticed Jimmy the Gent's white baskeball shoes.
"Pumas," he told Lesley Visser of the Boston Globe.
And what did Kuhn think of Jimmy's coveralls?
"I don't think that's the latest in jumpsuit fashion," Kuhn said. "But I was looking at it out of the corner of my eye."
Kuhn has worn a lot of uniforms, but never one like Jimmy's.
Kuhn's lawyer, Zimmerman, later listened to a history lesson. "Everyone was shocked in '51, but in '61 they had twice as many players involved and nobody was even prosecuted," the history student said. "Nobody much cared by '61."
"And nobody will care at all in '91," the lawyer said.
Rocco Perla piped up. "How about in '82?" said Perla, a high school buddy of Kuhn's, now convicted as a co-conspirator.
He laughed at that one.