Former NBA Referee Sentenced

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Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in a gambling scandal. Donaghy bet on games in which he officiated and tipped off other gamblers about inside-NBA information. He pleaded guilty last year.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was sentenced today to 15 months in a federal prison. He'll be serving time for his role in a gambling ring that bet on NBA games. Last year, Donaghy pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and conspiracy. From New York, NPR's Mike Pesca reports.

MIKE PESCA: Steroids, dog fighting, domestic abuse, gun violence - whatever you consider to be the modern four horsemen of the apocalypse in the world of sports, there is one scourge that the sports leagues themselves regard as worse than all others: game fixing, or even the mere hint that the contests aren't on the up and up.

Historically, sport's harshest internal sanctions have been meted out not to players convicted of violent crimes, but to anyone who admitted the whiff of cheating. This attitude explains why last year, when former NBA referee Tim Donaghy admitted to passing along insider information to professional gamblers, the league's commissioner, David Stern, described it as his personal low point.

DAVID STERN: I have been involved with referring, and obviously been involved with the NBA for 40 years in some shape or form. I can tell you that this is the most serious situation and worst situation that I have ever experienced.

PESCA: But the law has a different take. Today, federal judge Carol Amon looked at Donaghy's crimes and considered them as legal - not league - transgressions. Federal guidelines suggest that Donaghy should face up to 33 months in prison, but Amon sentenced him to only 13 months, citing his extensive cooperation with federal officials. Fifteen months in prison is still 15 months, and Donaghy has lost his job, his reputation. He's gotten divorced. And when mobbed by dozens of camera crews outside the Brooklyn court today, he looked sickened. But his lawyer, John Lauro, told reporters that he was thrilled with the sentence.

JOHN LAURO: I think what judge did is factor in his very significant cooperation. She knew he did the right thing, and he did it before anybody asked him to do it. And that's why the sentence was so appropriate.

PESCA: Today, Commissioner Stern reacted to the sentence by suggesting that the healing process can begin. He also noted that the sentence, combined with changes the NBA has made to its referee operations, will improve anti-gambling procedures. Among those changes has been hiring a retired two-star Army general in the newly created position of senior vice president of referee operations. The NBA has also commissioned an internal probe to investigate such questions as how did Donaghy's gambling addiction go undetected until federal officials brought it to the NBA's attention? But throughout this case, the leak has maintained, and Donaghy's lawyer John Lauro reiterated, that for all his client's crimes, Donaghy called an honest game.

LAURO: This is not a situation where games were manipulated or fixed. The NBA looked at it, and they concluded - as we had - that that simply never took place.

PESCA: Donaghy and the two other men sentenced in this case were ordered to pay a combined $217,000 in restitution to the NBA, which asked for 1.4 million. Both sums are tiny to a brand worth billions and a league that knows its value is inextricably tied to the perception that its games are incorruptible. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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