The University of Virginia football team will be one focus of a federal grand jury looking into drug dealing in Charlottesville, according to Police Chief John (Dek) Bowen.
"I don't know who the investigation is going to touch, but, under the circumstances, I'd be suspicious of football," Bowen told The Richmond News Leader.
Kevin A. Turner, a former football player at Virginia, pleaded guilty last month in federal court to distributing cocaine. "What Turner said leads you to believe he was dealing with the football team," Bowen said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We'd known about Turner prior to this task force and were very aware of his activity."
Jim Dombrowski, a Virginia all-America and a first-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints, said he frequently saw Turner with football players. "Unless you were naive, you knew what was going on," Dombrowski said.
Turner and Ruben Dario Vahos, a law school student at Virginia, have been indicted in the investigation. Turner is being held in Charlottesville while awaiting a July 27 sentencing on the cocaine distribution conviction.
The same federal grand jury that indicted Turner and Vahos is scheduled to meet again July 22-23, and Bowen said he expected several Virginia athletes may be indicted at that time. "I don't know who or how many will be indicted, but it will probably be a small number," he said.
George Welsh, Virginia's football coach, said he had been told about the investigation this spring by Athletic Director Dick Schultz. "Dick told me there was some drug investigation going on," Welsh said. "He told me there would probably be some prominent athletes involved, but I don't know if they are from our team or not."
A former Virginia football player, who declined to be identified, estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the players on last season's team had used drugs, but said only three or four players used drugs frequently. "The more I was around the more I realized what was going on," he said. "Virginia has its share of drug users."
Bowen said the player's estimates seemed accurate. "However, to my understanding this task force is directed at distributors, not at users," Bowen said.
Virginia initiated a drug education and testing program last fall. At one of the education programs that all Virginia athletes were required to attend, a police detective told players he knew there was drug use among athletes and urged them to stop. "He tried to threaten the athletes, saying, 'We know who you are,' " said Jeff Walker, a former punter for Virginia. "He tried to scare them."
Several players said they had known of the investigation and were surprised that some teammates had not been indicted already. "We had heard that they were going to start busting people in April," the former football player said. "We were all paranoid."