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KEARNEY, N.J. – A University of Miami booster, incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, has told Yahoo! Sports he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010.
In 100 hours of jailhouse interviews during Yahoo! Sports’ 11-month investigation, Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro described a sustained, eight-year run of rampant NCAA rule-breaking, some of it with the knowledge or direct participation of at least seven coaches from the Miami football and basketball programs. At a cost that Shapiro estimates in the millions of dollars, he said his benefits to athletes included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.
Also among the revelations were damning details of Shapiro’s co-ownership of a sports agency – Axcess Sports & Entertainment – for nearly his entire tenure as a Hurricanes booster. The same agency that signed two first-round picks from Miami, Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason, and recruited dozens of others while Shapiro was allegedly providing cash and benefits to players. In interviews with federal prosecutors, Shapiro said many of those same players were also being funneled cash and benefits by his partner at Axcess, then-NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue. Shapiro said he also made payments on behalf of Axcess, including a $50,000 lump sum to Wilfork, as a recruiting tool for the agency.
In an effort to substantiate the booster’s claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources – including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach – corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking.
While the NCAA declined comment, Miami associate AD for communications Chris Freet told Yahoo! Sports the school has been cooperating with an NCAA probe to unravel claims the booster has made to investigators. He added that the university unsuccessfully sought an interview with the booster last summer.
“When Shapiro made his allegations nearly a year ago, he and his attorneys refused to provide any facts to the university,” Freet said. “We notified the NCAA enforcement officials of these allegations. We are fully cooperating with the NCAA and are conducting a joint investigation. We take these matters very seriously.”
All told, the length, breadth and depth of the impropriety Shapiro has alleged would potentially breach multiple parts of at least four major NCAA bylaws – and possibly many more. Shapiro described acts that could include violations of multiple parts of bylaw 11, involving impermissible compensation to coaches; multiple parts of bylaw 12, involving amateurism of athletes; multiple parts of bylaw 13, involving improper recruiting activity; and multiple parts of bylaw 16, involving extra benefits to athletes.
Perhaps most troubling is Shapiro’s sustained impropriety could trigger the NCAA’s “willful violations” exception to its four-year statute of limitations. Under bylaw 36.2.3, an investigation can expand beyond the statute if information reveals that an individual tied to a university has engaged in “a pattern of willful violations” over a sustained period beyond the previous four years.
Some of Shapiro’s allegations were outlined in multiple recorded interviews with federal prosecutors – brought on by charges he misappropriated nearly $83 million in investor funds with a fraudulent grocery distribution business. And it was Shapiro’s cooperation in his Ponzi case – which encompassed both fraud and money laundering – which opened the door to his conduct at Miami.
“He agreed to cooperate with the government,” said Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena-Perez. “He had to be 100-percent truthful. And it has never been the government’s position that he lied about his conduct or the conduct of others in his discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
“Once Miami was on the table, it opened up everything in that realm. And his cooperation with the NCAA was another level of him coming clean about conduct that wasn’t above board with investor funds – specifically things he was doing with everyone in the UM athletic program.”
Ultimately, what documents show is a booster who broke NCAA rules while simultaneously making tens of thousands of dollars in annual contributions to Miami’s athletic program. All while incurring massive bills aligning himself socially with a stable of Miami players. A stable that features multiple elite players such as Wilfork, Beason, Andre Johnson, Devin Hester, Kellen Winslow Jr., Antrel Rolle and many more – including at least 12 players currently on the Hurricanes roster.
“Here’s the thing: Luther Campbell was the first uncle who took care of players before I got going,” Shapiro said, referring to the entertainer notorious for supplying cash to Miami players in the 1980s and 1990s. “His role was diminished by the NCAA and the school, and someone needed to pick up that mantle. That someone was me. He was ‘Uncle Luke’, and I became ‘Little Luke.’
“I became a booster in late 2001, and by early 2002, I was giving kids gifts. From the start, I wasn’t really challenged. And once I got going, it just got bigger and bigger. I just did what I wanted and didn’t pay much mind toward the potential repercussions.”
In 15 prison interviews with Yahoo! Sports and hundreds of telephone and email interactions, Shapiro laid out a multitude of reasons for blowing the whistle on his illicit booster activity. Chief is his feeling that after spending eight years forging what he thought were legitimate friendships with players, he was abandoned by many of the same Miami athletes he treated so well. He told Yahoo! Sports that following his incarceration, he asked multiple players for financial help – either with bail money, or assistance to individuals close to the booster. Shapiro admitted some of those inquiries included angry letters and phone calls to players whom he provided benefits.
“Some of those players – a lot of those players – we used to say we were a family,” Shapiro said. “Well, who do you go to for help when you need it? You go to your family. Why the hell wouldn’t I go to them?”
Now feeling outcast, the booster said his goal is to rip away the façade of ‘The U’, and reveal an ugly truth about one of the country’s most celebrated college football programs.
“Yeah, I’m guilty,” said Shapiro, whose plea to counts of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and money laundering resulted in a 20-year federal prison sentence. Shapiro also has one prior conviction on his record – an assault case from 1995 in which he pled guilty to punching a nightclub owner. Shapiro was sentenced to 18 months probation in that case.
“I’ve pled guilty to my crime,” the booster said. “I understand the public perception of me and that’s going to be what it’s going to be. My name has been dragged through the mud as much as it could be. But remember, when Jose Canseco told the truth about the steroid problems in baseball, he was considered a dirty rat. Everyone said he was bitter, he was out of baseball, he’s out of money, he was this and that. But he changed the face of the game. I don’t care if I change the face of the game. But I’m telling the truth about what happened at Miami. It’s the truth. And you tell me, why should the University of Miami be exempt from the truth?”
Now, almost a decade after he officially became a University of Miami booster, Shapiro’s truth could potentially dismantle a program he says he has loved for much of his life. After initially threatening to write a tell-all book in August of 2010, Shapiro shelved the project and began cooperating with a Yahoo! Sports investigation in December. Four months later, in March, he said he opened a line of communication with NCAA investigators and began turning over materials to corroborate his claims.
“It’s all true,” said one of Shapiro’s ex-girlfriends, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals from former Miami players. “He took care of them. What does that mean? It has a lot of meanings. He took care of them by giving cash to make sure they had stuff. He took care of them whenever they wanted to go party. He took care of them by getting them laid. He took care of them if they needed a place to stay. Whatever they needed, at that moment they needed it, Nevin would provide it. Whether it was sex, money, meals, a new TV, if their mother needed something, if they needed a new ring or some jewelry – whatever they needed, Nevin would provide it.”
And Shapiro’s justification for his actions? He said it was simple.
“I did it because I could,” he said. “And because nobody stepped in to stop me.”
A Miami transplant in early childhood from his birthplace of Brooklyn, N.Y., Shapiro, 42, said he became a Hurricanes fan in the same manner of many over the last two decades. He fell in love with “The U” as a young boy living in Miami Beach, voraciously seeking tickets through the turbulent but successful tenures of Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis. Like many, he was drawn to the mixture of grit, flash and swagger of Miami football, which seemed to mirror the soul of the city just north of Coral Gables.
While his financial records prior to 2003 have remained difficult to completely detail, sources told Yahoo! Sports that Shapiro made money the same way many did early in that decade – profiting from aggressive real estate deals in a robust and growing Miami Beach market. And that opened some financial doors, including the ability to afford a $12,000 price tag to become a Hurricanes booster in 2001. It was that season Shapiro became a “living scholar,” which was Miami’s way of pairing up a player who, in theory, was having his scholarship funded by his living scholar booster. The living scholar program is approved by the NCAA.
Shapiro’s first living scholar athlete was a then-little used freshman running back named Willis McGahee. For the 2001 season, Shapiro said the two had an unremarkable relationship – just the modest allowable contact of a home-cooked meal and a few less-than-memorable conversations at team outings. But Shapiro said his role would quickly change after the team’s awards banquet in December of 2001, when he met a mountainous freshman defensive tackle named Vince Wilfork, and junior defensive end Andrew Williams, who had played a key role on one of the best defenses in college football history.
“Everything started when I gave some Miami Heat basketball tickets to Andrew Williams,” Shapiro said. “I had given some guys my business card at the  awards banquet, including Andrew. We kept in touch after the season ended, and I ended up giving him the tickets. It was like nothing. I didn’t even think about it.”
Williams denied receiving any gifts from Shapiro.
“Who, me?” Williams said. “Man, naw.”
But Shapiro insists it was that one simple act that began to change everything. Later in that same offseason prior to the 2002 season, Shapiro says he bought a big-screen television at BrandsMart USA for Williams’ apartment. A burgeoning relationship of gifts led to Shapiro’s introduction to Williams’ two roommates – Cornelius Green and Jerome McDougle.
Shapiro said he liked his three new friends instantly. And he never thought twice about whether he should continue – and deepen – his financial generosity. Particularly after he met Green, a large, charismatic defensive end who Shapiro said wasted little time laying the groundwork for the booster to become acquainted with his teammates. In turn, Shapiro said he quickly indulged the players’ interest to take whatever he was willing to provide – offerings that escalated quickly from basketball tickets and televisions to parties on entire floors of suites at South Beach’s Mercury Hotel where he said he made scores of prostitutes available.
“It really started with me developing a strong relationship with Corn,” Shapiro said. “He was really like a queen bee of the players. Through Cornelius it was like I was meeting every single guy – almost every guy on the roster – [and] specifically the frontline players, the star players.
“As word spread – and it spread fast – guys were just coming up to me. By the time the next season came around, I even recall Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor, they were just coming off their freshman years and not really stars yet, just walking up and introducing themselves and wanting to get in on the party.
“I didn’t even have to push the situations. Once it started and guys knew they could come to me, it escalated quickly.”
Green and McDougle could not be reached for comment.
However, eight former Miami players or recruits confirmed receiving illicit benefits from Shapiro.
That included former Miami running back Tyrone Moss, who was one of dozens of players Shapiro named when speaking to NCAA investigators about his activity with Hurricanes players. According to Shapiro, he hosted Moss on his $1.6 million yacht and also gave the player a $1,000 cash payment.
When contacted by Yahoo! Sports, Moss affirmed being aboard Shapiro’s yacht.
Asked if he had been given $1,000 by the booster during their first meeting, Moss said: “Yeah. It was me and some other players with my incoming [class]. I’m not going to say the names but you can probably figure them out yourself. When I was getting there my freshman year, it was me and a couple more players. … It was me and a few more of the guys in my incoming class that he kind of showed some love to.”
Another player – who also admitted taking benefits but requested anonymity – said he was aware that Moss took money from Shapiro and supported the decision.
“The guy had a kid while he was in college, a little Tyrone Jr.,” the player said. “He comes in poor as (expletive) from Pompano and he’s got a little kid to feed. I could barely feed myself. I can’t imagine having to feed a kid, too. Of course he’s going to take it when someone offers him $1,000.”
“Who wouldn’t in that situation?”
Yahoo! Sports has detailed Shapiro’s specific allegations involving 73 players (Shapiro claims he gave impermissible benefits to 72), seven coaches and three support staff members who he said either received illicit benefits, witnessed the booster giving them, or played some role in his improper activity.
Multiple sources who interacted with Shapiro corroborated in detail the manner in which the booster doled out specific benefits as he violated NCAA rules. Among the sources are three former Miami players who each received benefits from Shapiro, a bodyguard who played a role in facilitating the activity, a high-end restaurateur who benefitted from Shapiro’s relationship with players, an ex-girlfriend, multiple friends and a former neighbor who witnessed the behavior firsthand.
Out of fear of retribution from former or current Hurricanes players, the sources asked that their names not be revealed. Among the NCAA violations Shapiro and other sources described:
• NCAA rule-breaking with coaches and staffers: Shapiro said he violated NCAA rules with the knowledge or direct participation of at least six coaches – Clint Hurtt, Jeff Stoutland and Aubrey Hill on the football staff, and Frank Haith, Jake Morton and Jorge Fernandez on the basketball staff. Multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports Shapiro also violated NCAA rules with football assistant Joe Pannunzio, although the booster refused to answer any questions about that relationship. Shapiro also named assistant football equipment manager Sean Allen as someone who engaged in rulebreaking, and equipment managers Ralph Nogueras and Joey Corey as witnesses to some of his impropriety.
Among the specific incidents, Shapiro or other sources say Hurtt, Hill, Stoutland, Pannunzio and Allen all delivered top-tier recruits to Shapiro’s home or luxury suite so the booster could make recruiting pitches to them. Among the players who were ushered to Shapiro while they were still in high school: Eventual Miami commitments Ray-Ray Armstrong, Dyron Dye and Olivier Vernon (prompted by Hurtt); eventual Florida commitments Andre Debose (Hurtt) and Matt Patchan (prompted by Stoutland and Pannunzio); eventual Georgia commitment Orson Charles (Pannunzio); and eventual Central Florida commitment Jeffrey Godfrey (Allen).
The University of Alabama (Pannunzio and Soutland), University of Florida (Hill) and Louisville University (Hurtt) all declined to make the coaches available for interviews. Allen declined comment, calling all of Shapiro’s claims “egregious and false.”
But Shapiro insists he came in contact with multiple recruits improperly during their official or unofficial visits going all the way back to 2002.
“Hell yeah, I recruited a lot of kids for Miami,” Shapiro said. “With access to the clubs, access to the strip joints. My house. My boat. We’re talking about high school football players. Not anybody can just get into the clubs or strip joints. Who is going to pay for it and make it happen? That was me.”
The booster said his role went one step farther with the basketball program, when he paid $10,000 to help secure the commitment of recruit DeQuan Jones. Shapiro said the transaction was set up by assistant coach Jake Morton in 2007 who acted as the conduit for the funds, and was later acknowledged by head coach Frank Haith in a one-on-one conversation.
Haith denied Shapiro’s claims through a University of Missouri spokesman. Morton, who is now at Western Kentucky, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Shapiro also entertained then-prominent AAU basketball coach Moe Hicks in October of 2008, with a nightclub visit that was attended by both Morton and Fernandez.