Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to felony charges Wednesday for taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on games he officiated in a scandal that rocked the league and raised questions about the integrity of the sport.
Donaghy faces a maximum of 25 years in prison when he is sentenced for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting wagering information through interstate commerce. He was released on a $250,000 bond.
Speaking in code during telephone calls, Donaghy provided recommendations, called "picks," to co-conspirators about what team they should bet on, said U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon. If he was correct, they paid him $5,000.
The picks, the government said, included information about games that Donaghy officiated - information that was not public. Donaghy had "unique access," including what crews would be officiating games, the interaction of different officials and players, and the physical condition of certain players.
Donaghy was fined $500,000 and must pay at least $30,000 in restitution to the government.
Commissioner David Stern said the NBA would "continue with our ongoing and thorough review of the league's officiating program to ensure that the best possible policies and procedures are in place to protect the integrity of our game."
"Tim deeply regrets his involvement in this matter and especially the pain it has caused his family, friends and co-workers," said Donaghy's lawyer, John Lauro.
Donaghy stood ramrod-straight, hands clasped in front of him, and spoke in nearly inaudible tones as he addressed the judge. He said he was seeing a psychiatrist for his gambling addiction and taking antidepressant and anxiety medication.
Prosecutors said Donaghy bet on games himself, but that was not a specific part of the verbal admission he made before the judge.
Two alleged co-conspirators, identified by prosecutors as James Battista, a professional gambler, and Thomas Martino, were in the custody of federal marshals and awaiting arraignment on conspiracy charges carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years.
The FBI first contacted the NBA on June 20 to talk about a referee alleged to be gambling on games, and the two sides met on June 21, Stern said last month. Donaghy resigned July 9 after 13 years as a referee. Stern said he would have fired him sooner but was told it might affect the investigation.
Stern called Donaghy a "rogue, isolated criminal" during his July press conference and said no other NBA officials or players were expected to be involved in the scandal. Stern called it the "most serious situation and worst situation that I have ever experienced either as a fan of the NBA, a lawyer for the NBA or a commissioner of the NBA."
Donaghy was rated in the top tier of officials, Stern said, and there was nothing suspicious about the frequency of his foul calls. He was assigned to work in the second round of the playoffs, with
his last NBA game coming during the Phoenix-San Antonio Western Conference semifinal series.
"Tim Donaghy's former colleagues on the NBA's officiating staff are deeply saddened to learn that he pleaded guilty today to wagering on professional basketball games and providing others with non-public information on those games," referees association spokesman Lamell McMorris said. "This is a truly unfortunate case of wrongdoing by one of our own who has admitted to having a serious gambling problem.
"We recognize that a cloud has descended upon all referees, but we are committed to showing the public that this was an isolated event and that NBA officiating is conducted at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and fairness."
Donaghy will be sentenced Nov. 9, Lauro said.
He turned over his passport and must seek permission to travel anywhere other than Pennsylvania, Florida or New York.
From Associated Press reports