With a declaration that the legal system has an obligation to defend the integrity of intercollegiate sports, a federal judge in New York yesterday sentenced a former Boston College basketball player to 10 years in prison for conspiring to manipulate the scores of six BC games during the 1978-79 season.
In imposing the sentence on reserve forward Rick Kuhn, 26, Judge Henry Bramwell rejected defense arguments that fixing the outcome of sports events is a victimless crime that few people really care about.
He also rejected defense requests for leniency or an alternative sentence of public service work. Bramwell said he did not believe in alternative sentencing, and that a long jail term might deter other college athletes from conspiring to fix games.
According to Bramwell's law clerk, the judge read into the record a series of 10 rhetorical questions before pronouncing a sentence believed to be the most severe ever imposed on a college athlete for conspiring to fix games. The questions included:
Does illegal sports activity tend to generate great suspicion towards players, coaches, officials and college educators?
Does anyone care whether college basketball players take gamblers' money and agree to engage in illegal sports activities?
Does the court have a responsibility to protect the integrity of intercollegiate athletics?
The judge answered all 10 questions "positively yes," the clerk said.
Kuhn, of Swissvale, Pa., was convicted Nov. 23 in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn of conspiring with four others to manipulate the scores as part of a betting scheme in which gamblers hoped to win thousands of dollars by beating the bookmakers' point spreads on Boston College games.
On Jan. 22, James Burke, 51, described by the judge as a major figure in organized crime, received the maximum 20 years in prison plus fines totaling $30,000 for his part in the conspiracy. Burke is currently in prison for parole violation on a 1974 extortion conviction.
Anthony Perla, 31, of Braddock Hills, Pa., was sentenced to 10 years, and his brother Rocco Perla, 26, was sentenced to four years. The fifth member of the conspiracy, Paul Mazzei, 37, in prison on a narcotics conviction, will be sentenced Friday.
All five were convicted of conspiracy to commit racketeering and sports bribery, and violation of the Travel Act.
Kuhn was sentenced to 10 years for conspiracy to commit racketeering and the maximum five years each for conspiracy to commit sports bribery and for violation of the Travel Act. The sentences are to be served concurrently. Kuhn could have been sentenced to 20 years on the racketeering charge.
In a point-shaving conspiracy 30 years ago involving players from seven college basketball teams, five players received jail sentences ranging from six months to three years, and nine others received suspended sentences.
"A strong argument can be offered that a substantial term of incarceration imposed on this defendant will be recalled in the future by another college athlete who may be tempted to compromise his performance," Bramwell said.
Kuhn had no comment on the sentence, but his lawyer Gary Zimmerman said, "The length of it is outrageous."
Kuhn, a high school classmate of Rocco Perla, emerged during the trial as a central figure in the conspiracy and the gamblers' means of access to the team. According to testimony, he was paid $2,500 for each of the six games, although the gamblers won their bets on only three.
Through Kuhn, the gamblers were able to reach point guard James Sweeney and Ernie Cobb, the team's leading scorer, according to the testimony of Henry Hill, a convicted felon who testified for the state in exchange for immunity from prosecution in the case.
Sweeney testified he accepted $500 from Kuhn and told the gamblers he would cooperate, but he said he acted only out of fear and never really participated in any point shaving. Cobb was not called as a witness.
Bramwell said the case has "reminded millions of sports fans that athletes can be compromised. Every college athlete may now come under suspicion from coaches and fans."
"Will acts of racketeering and sports bribery have a negative effect on student recruitment, voluntary support of an institution and the success of athletic programs at an institution?" he asked in his series of rhetorical questions.
"Is the association of a university's name with acts of racketeering and sports bribery harmful to the university?"
Kuhn remains free on bail pending the outcome of an appeal of his conviction.