NCAA eyes booster's claims Miami players took cash

by | Special to

The NCAA has launched an investigation into the University of Miami's athletic department involving a potentially damaging extra benefits case, two sources confirmed to first reported the news.

A source confirmed that the focus of the investigation stems from claims made by Nevin Shapiro, a Miami booster who has been convicted of running a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. He is working on a tell-all book about the claims, which is expected to name nearly 100 athletes at the school who broke NCAA rules since 2001. Shapiro donated $150,000 to the athletic department and was a frequent guest on the sidelines at Hurricanes practices and games.

Reports about players getting extra benefits is not how new 'Canes coach Al Golden hopes to begin his era at Miami. (AP)  
Reports about players getting extra benefits is not how new 'Canes coach Al Golden hopes to begin his era at Miami. (AP)  
Shapiro's attorney, Maria Elena Perez, says Shapiro has told the NCAA he provided players with the use of a yacht and other favors. Shapiro and Perez have been talking with the NCAA about the matter for a couple of months, and she says investigators were on campus Monday.

University officials didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Palm Beach Post beat writer Jorge Milian reported Sunday night that Shapiro would also be the focus of a damaging story from Yahoo! Sports.

One source said Miami was "in big trouble" as a result of the claims and that Shapiro would be able to back up his allegations. Most of the allegations focus on Miami football players receiving money and other benefits as a result of playing for the Hurricanes. Investigators are expected to question several current players with ties to Shapiro but one source said there was no connection between the current coaching staff and the booster.

The NCAA has been active in South Florida over the past several months, sending investigators to various 7-on-7 camps and making connections with parents and coaches. One source added that the secondary focus of the look was on the recruiting methods of at least three SEC schools and a number of ACC schools in the area. It is unclear whether the two probes are connected but one person told that the NCAA will be questioning several people connected to the Miami players, such as coaches and other "third parties" connected to them.

Though several have called Shapiro's information into question, two sources told the NCAA is taking the claims seriously and investigators have used information from convicted felons in the past.

The NCAA does have a four-year statute of limitations. Miami was hit with major sanctions in 1995 as a result of a lack of institutional control stemming from a financial aid and extra benefits scandal.

Shapiro, 42, was sentenced in June by a New Jersey federal judge to 20 years in prison for his role in an investment fraud scheme. He pleaded guilty to charges related to running a multistate Ponzi scheme that prosecutors say left more than 60 investors in Florida, Indiana and New Jersey with nearly $100 million in losses.

Perez said Shapiro had cooperated with bankruptcy and government officials to try to recover as much money as possible for his victims.

"During the course of this, things came up which resulted in the investigation, which is ongoing," Perez said.

Shapiro was generous with his investors' money, donating to athletic groups and charities and getting a student-athlete lounge named after him at Miami by donating $150,000. Shapiro's name was removed from the lounge in 2008 after the school said he did not follow his pledged donation-payment plan.


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