Yep, I did it, admits dirty ref

19 08 2007

Disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy admitted yesterday to pocketing more than $30,000 by passing inside tips on games to pals in an illegal gambling ring.

The crooked ex-official whose dirty dealings soiled the reputation of the pro hoops game pleaded guilty to charges that could put him behind bars for 25 years.

Every time his tip was on the mark, the rogue official was paid $5,000.

“I was in a unique position to pick the outcome of NBA games,” Donaghy, 40, told a judge in Brooklyn Federal Court. “I received cash payments for successful picks. Some of my picks included games I had been assigned to referee.”

From the insider perch, Donaghy added, “I was aware of the manner in which officials interacted with players and called games, as well as the condition of players prior to a game.”

Federal prosecutors alleged that Donaghy was betting on games he refereed back to 2003. But he denied that yesterday as he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit bets and wagers.

Donaghy said he used a special code to communicate his tips to his betting buddies, James Battista, 42, and Thomas Martino, 41, two ex-high school classmates also charged yesterday.

Battista’s lawyer Jack McMahon said outside court he expects Donaghy has made a deal with prosecutors and will give testimony against his client.

“Mr. Donaghy walked away with a nice situation for himself,” McMahon said. “He is the linchpin, and he seems to have worked his way into a nice situation. I don’t know if that is fair.”

In addition to jail time, Donaghy is facing fines totaling half a million dollars and has agreed to cough up the $30,000 in ill-gotten gains.

All three men were released after posting a $250,000 bond.

Donaghy, a 13-year NBA veteran, resigned July 9 after news surfaced that he was at the center of an FBI probe. The betting scheme was uncovered during an investigation into the Gambino crime family in Brooklyn, but none of the defendants has mob ties.

His lawyer said yesterday a gambling addiction led to his involvement.

“He’s had a severe gambling problem for awhile that went untreated,” said lawyer John Lauro.

Donaghy, who lives in Florida, also told Judge Carol Bagley Amon he was taking drugs for depression and anxiety.

“He expresses a great deal of remorse and concern about the pain that he’s caused his family, his friends and his co-workers,” Lauro said.

It was unclear yesterday whether others are involved in the gambling scandal, but U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said the investigation is continuing.

NBA commissioner David Stern said the league was still reviewing its officiating program.

Lamell McMorris, a spokesman for the National Basketball Referees Association, the union representing game officials, said: “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.”

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