|Sean Allen says Miami coach Al Golden (pictured) asked him about recruits. (Getty Images)|
Sean Allen was alone in his one-bedroom Miami (Fla.) apartment that overlooks Brickell Key when his cell phone buzzed. It was 5:30 on a Friday afternoon in mid-August, 2011. Allen glanced at his caller ID.
Hernandez is a Deputy Athletic Director at the University of Miami. Allen had been friends with him for almost a decade.
"We knew this was coming," Hernandez told Allen. "They want to meet with you."
"All right," Allen replied. "When?"
"Monday, 5:30 in the afternoon. In the [UM] General Counsel's office."
The baby-faced, 5-9, 150-pound Allen, known to almost everyone around the Miami Hurricane football program as "Pee Wee," understood exactly who Hernandez meant when he said "they."
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Allen also grasped why the NCAA wanted to speak with him -- an $8 an hour, part-time employee in the Miami equipment room.
One year earlier, Allen had walked into Hernandez's office at UM. Hernandez promptly shut the door behind him. An article had appeared in the Miami Herald the day before. The headline: "New book to allege violations made by University of Miami football." According to the story, UM booster Nevin Shapiro, facing years in prison for allegedly running a near-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, was set to make startling revelations that would rock the Hurricane program.
Allen and Hernandez, a former UM compliance person, both knew Shapiro well. In fact, Allen had been Shapiro's right-hand man, working for him in a variety of capacities, including in an agency the bombastic Cane booster had co-owned.
Until now, Sean "Pee Wee" Allen has never gone on the record about his involvement with the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami. It was Allen whom Shapiro told Yahoo! he gave more than $200,000 in cash and checks for direct payouts to UM players in addition to funding strip-club visits, meals and other improper benefits. This week, Allen agreed to speak with CBSSports.com about, among other things, his role in the scandal; how he became "a middle man" in the recruiting process after Al Golden took over in Miami and how he tried to lie his way out of all of it to the NCAA.
According to Allen, he has spent almost 13 hours being interviewed by NCAA investigators on several different occasions. Those 13 hours don't include his three-hour deposition in Shapiro's federal bankruptcy case, where Allen admitted that he provided improper benefits to Miami football players.
Allen told CBSSports.com that when he arrived with his attorney to give his deposition in December, 2011, he was "shocked" to see an NCAA investigator in the room. Allen says his attorney had the guy leave the room, but in reality, that didn't make a difference because the NCAA, he suspects, had already given Shapiro's attorney questions to ask him. The NCAA doesn't have subpoena power, as Allen realized. And now he was under oath.
"It definitely changed the ballgame," Allen says, referring to the NCAA's case against Miami. It also provided the NCAA with a link between the Shapiro scandal and to current UM coach Al Golden since Pee Wee Allen proved to be that connection. Allen says he got nervous when he saw a story in the Aug. 29, 2010 edition of the Miami Herald about Shapiro making threats against UM and its football program. Allen had seen how nasty Shapiro could get. He says he stopped working for Shapiro "because he was a crazy lunatic."
However, after about 15 minutes that August day in 2010 in Hernandez's office, Allen says he felt better after the deputy AD had told him not to worry about Shapiro or the situation. He told Allen that UM had hired a private investigator to look into Shapiro. So Allen figured the school had done its due diligence and was aware of Shapiro's general pattern of behavior. Allen left Hernandez's office and didn't give Shapiro's threats to go public too much thought for the next year.
Even after Hernandez called Allen on that Friday afternoon in August, 2011, the part-time UM equipment guy wasn't too stressed. "I thought my two options were to go meet with the NCAA or to not continue to work with the team," Allen tells CBS. "I thought meeting with them was going to be a piece of cake."
However, on the morning of his scheduled NCAA interview, Allen's mood changed when he got another call. The voice on the other end identified himself as Charles Robinson, an investigative reporter from Yahoo! Sports. Allen figured the guy got his number from Shapiro.
Robinson asked about his relationship with Michael Huyghue, a former NFL agent, who had co-owned Axcess Sports & Entertainment with Shapiro while Shapiro was a UM booster.
"I'm going into a meeting right now," Allen told Robinson. "I'll call you back."
"That's what everybody says," Robinson replied. "And they never call back."
"I'm a man of my word. I'll call you back."
Allen did actually have a meeting. In addition to his job at UM, he'd been working the previous two months for Guardian Ad Litem, helping with abused and neglected children. Allen called Robinson back and said he didn't want to comment, but offered to email the reporter a statement: "I have no comment as to these egregious and false allegations. I emphatically deny any wrongdoing and am fully confident that the truth will soon be clear."
Allen now cringes at his statement. "I regret it," he says. "I gave a denial before I even knew what was in the story. It makes me look like an ass. It's tough when you don't know what he's writing, but I wasn't used to dealing with the media."
A few hours later in the day, things would get worse for Allen. Waiting for him inside UM's General Counsel Office were Hernandez, Miami's assistant general counsel and three NCAA investigators.
"I went in there guns ablazin' and I got killed," Allen says. "They knew a lot more than I realized they did. They attacked me in every way, shape and form. They asked me a ton of questions. They went through about 150 [UM] players. 'What was your relationship with so-and-so? What was Nevin's relationship with him? What was Axcess' relationship with him?' They asked those for each guy.
"I denied. I denied. I denied. I lied about EV-ERY-THING."
(At that point, he adds, the Yahoo story was not out yet.)
The interview would last almost four hours, although they took several breaks, according to Allen.
"Miami's lawyer and Tony pulled me into a room," Allen recalled. "They told me, 'Calm down.' I said to Tony, 'I don't have to work here. I don't need the $8 an hour job.'"
No one ever called Sean Allen "Pee Wee" until 2001, when he showed up at the UM football office on his first week as a freshman asking, "How can I help out?"
Allen grew up in what he describes as an upper middle-class neighborhood in New Jersey. His mom was a teacher and his father an executive. He says he played safety for his high school football team in New Jersey, but knew he didn't have the size or athleticism to make the 'Canes team as a walk-on. Instead, he was directed by a UM staffer to the Miami equipment office. Allen had no qualms about his new role in a powerhouse college football program on the brink of making a national title run.
"I'll do whatever you want," he recalls telling Miami football staffers.
"I got paid zero my first year," Allen says. But he loved being around the team, especially since the 'Canes rolled to the national title, going 12-0. Allen even received a national championship ring for his efforts.
"Everybody who was around the program liked Pee Wee," said one longtime UM staffer. "You won't find people who know him who'd say anything negative about the guy. He was always chill. He was a good dude."
Allen can't recall exactly when it was during his sophomore year that he first met Shapiro other than it was around the Hecht—Miami's athletic complex. "He was a young guy who was very passionate about UM and he had a lot of money," Allen recalls. "I was studying Business Management. I had no reason to believe the guy was running a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
|Allen says former Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon warned those around the team to avoid Nevin Shapiro. (US Presswire)|
"Nevin was a really benevolent guy in my mind, at times," Allen adds. "But as times went on, years later, I saw the other side."
Shapiro told Yahoo that he gave Allen more than $200,000 in cash and checks since first meeting him in 2002. Shapiro, who became a UM booster in 2001, said the monies were for a multitude of reasons, including gambling debts owed by the booster, payment for work, direct payouts to players and funneling dinners, strip club visits and other benefits to Hurricanes athletes.
Allen takes issue with any notion that he acted as some sort of "bagman." "That's not quite representative of the reality. People drew inferences when they read that, like I walked away with $200,000.
"There wasn't any bagman. Even Nevin wasn't a bagman. A bagman buys players, and that didn't happen."
Shapiro also alleged that Allen was present in 2008 when a UM basketball coach received $10,000 from the booster to help land Hurricane basketball recruit DeQuan Jones. Allen tells CBS he does not remember that. "The point I brought up in my deposition [in December, 2011] and I told them this, 'I don't believe it happened. He wouldn't do that for a basketball player. Nevin was not in the business of just handing cash out like that, it was more a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there."
Allen says Shapiro wasn't trying to buy recruits. According to Allen, there was a five-star defensive back recruit in the class of 2003 who Shapiro told him he'd spent a lot of money on. The kid ended up signing with another school. "I'm not doing that anymore," Allen recalled Shapiro saying. "We can't outbid these [expletive] SEC schools."
Instead, Shapiro bank-rolled UM players and sometimes Miami recruits' wild nights out in South Florida or he brought them out for lavish parties on his million-dollar yacht. Even though Allen is now talking about his involvement in the Shapiro scandal, there are still a lot of details he has no interest in talking about on the record, he says.
From his perspective, Allen says you can divide this stuff into three categories: the illegal, the immoral and those things that are against the NCAA rules. "I wasn't breaking the law, and I'm not immoral," he says, "but I definitely broke rules. Nevin, though, didn't give a [expletive] about any of it."
After graduating from Miami in 2005, Allen was hired by Axcess Sports & Entertainment as Manager of Player Relations. Among the responsibilities in the job was marketing, he says. "I was never told that I had to recruit players," Allen tells CBS. "I guess that was a given."
Allen worked out of his home apartment, and he would go up to the company's Jacksonville's office a few times a month. Allen worked for Axcess for less than a year, he says. Later, Allen went back to work for Shapiro as the booster's personal assistant. Allen says he would do things like get Shapiro's car washed and pick up his girlfriend. He stopped working for Shapiro in January of 2009, he says.
Allen resumed working in the UM equipment office in the summer of 2009 although he never really disappeared from the 'Canes football scene. He was always hanging around, sources say. Even when he was working for Axcess, he'd be on the 'Canes sidelines during games. Nobody at Miami ever told him he shouldn't be there, Allen says.
"The worst thing Miami did in regards to Nevin Shapiro was not educating people enough like me to stay away from him and people like him," Allen says, adding that when he has been interviewed by the NCAA, he was told how the school was at fault for not "stepping in and cutting that off."
Allen did say former UM head coach Randy Shannon did try to warn people, both players and staff, about Shapiro: "Randy would say, 'You guys better not be hanging around this guy. He's bad news,'" Allen recalls. "Randy hated Nevin. He told me to stay away from him, but I ignored it. I'd shake my head, 'Yes, uh-huh,' and then go ahead and make more bad decisions."
Shannon, now an assistant at TCU, declined comment for this story.
"We were all just livin' the life," Allen says. "When I did certain things with certain players, I knew I was breaking the [NCAA] rules. You just never think you're going to get caught."
When Robinson and Yahoo published its bombshell story of an 11-month investigation on Aug. 16, 2011 detailing the Shapiro scandal where the UM booster said from a New Jersey jailhouse that he provided "thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 University of Miami athletes" from 2002 to 2010, Allen felt a sense of relief.
"I was nervous for me," he says, "What's [the article] going to say about me? [Then] I breathed a big sigh because of what was written about me was obscured by all of the other stuff. I know that is very selfish, but it was what it was."
The University of Miami scrambled to react. Adding to the confusion was the fact that many of the people who seemingly would have been in power at UM no longer were connected to the school or its football program. Miami was on its third AD since 2008. It certainly didn't help UM's image that former athletic director Paul Dee, who passed away last May, was the same guy who led the NCAA's Committee on Infractions and wagged his finger at USC in its investigation because, as he stated "high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance."
Dee's comments, in retrospect, sounded hypocritical because he made them seemingly while the Shapiro scandal was running wild back in South Florida. It also didn't help when a photo surfaced of Shapiro at a UM event at a bowling alley, where he's next to the then-basketball coach Frank Haith as the booster speaks into a microphone while UM president Donna Shalala looks giddy clutching a check.
Shalala, Dee, Kirby Hocutt, the AD who followed Dee in the job before moving on to Texas Tech in February of 2011, all got most of the blame for seemingly turning a blind eye to Shapiro. But in reality, the scandal has tainted many more UM staffers than just those three.
"The problem was UM was desperate for money," says a source. "The place really doesn't have boosters like other schools. They were really, really desperate."
Another source says Hernandez and UM compliance director David Reed had Shapiro investigated and told their bosses the school needed to distance itself from the booster. Of course, by then, Shapiro had already done considerable damage within the athletic department and broken enough rules that the school probably already was deserving of the NCAA's dreaded charge of lack of institutional control.
The Shapiro scandal torpedoed Al Golden's debut season at Miami before he had ever coached a game. The new 'Canes coach, who had arrived from Temple about nine months before the story broke, talked about being blindsided by the story. Investigations, both by the NCAA and the school, had been launched. Half of Golden's depth chart was gutted by NCAA-imposed player suspension related to their dealings with Shapiro.
The school decided to self-impose a bowl ban due to the NCAA probe near the end of what had proven to be a dud of a 2011 season. Weeks after that, though, on Dec. 19, 2011, things took a worse turn for Golden and his program. That's the day Allen was subpoenaed in Shapiro's federal bankruptcy case. Allen was not only grilled, under oath, about his involvement with Shapiro but also the current Hurricanes coaching staff as it related to the part-time equipment man operating as a recruiter for UM football, making improper contact with local prospects.
"They wanted to find out what a lot of those canceled checks were for," Allen says. "Most of the times I couldn't answer it. After that, it got into asking a lot about if Nevin did confer benefits on people. Technically, I guess that does have to do with the bankruptcy to find out where all of his money went, but it got so minute about some of these $100 dinners."
Allen said it really didn't sink in that he had just become a star witness for the NCAA until he walked out of the room. "They [the NCAA] got my deposition before I did. It was leaked to the [Miami] New Times. Both UM and Nevin's attorney blamed each other for that."
The NCAA, again, reached out to Allen. "This time," he says, "they had a totally different attitude to me. The first time, they were really aggressive toward me. This time, they were telling me all this stuff they didn't need to tell me. One of the investigators even brought up how he had handled the USC case with Reggie Bush."
Two months ago, Yahoo reported that after reviewing Allen's phone records and testimony, he had contact with at least 10 Miami-area prospects that were being recruited by Golden's staff.
Allen testified that on Dec. 17, 2010, less than a week after Golden was hired as UM's coach, he attended a dinner at Dan Marino's restaurant. Allen had been asked by a Miami staffer to bring Teddy Bridgewater -- then a blue-chip high school recruit who had been previously committed to Miami -- to the restaurant, where Golden was eating.
Someone at the table suggested Bridgewater, who was there on an unofficial visit, should order some food, but Allen says, "Golden then turned to me and said, 'That's probably not a good idea. Just feed him on your way home.'
"Without a doubt, one million percent, I remember that conversation happening."
Allen says that was probably the first time he'd met Golden, but soon the new UM football coach realized he could be an asset in recruiting. Allen recalls one day not long after the incident at Marino's, Golden stopped him in the hallway and said, "I heard you know [a local three-star wideout]. What do you think about him?"
"You guys should stay away from him," Allen replied. "He needs to get out of Miami."
According to Allen, Golden then pulled Allen by the arm into a meeting room in front of the staff and prompted him to tell the room his thoughts on the recruit.
"How the [expletive] would you know that?" scoffed Miami defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
"I've known that kid for years," Allen replied before explaining that he'd known many of the kids in the 2011 recruiting class for years. He'd known them since they were in elementary school, playing Optimist football because they grew up with a kid Allen had been mentoring as part of the local Big Brothers program. Another kid who grew up to be a top running back recruit, he says, used to crash on his couch sometimes because he was tight with Allen's Little Brother.
Allen says he joined the Big Brothers program in 2004 and calls it "the best thing I've ever done in my life. Not because of football, but because I had the chance to hopefully make a difference in kids' lives."
He says people who say he tried to exploit those relationships are off-base: "Is it really realistic to think that I was befriending these 110-pound kids playing Optimist football years ago to someday broker them to UM?"
But those relationships did put Allen in an unusual spot. "The old [Randy Shannon] staff didn't need me," Allen says. "When the new staff came in, they had no connections."
Allen says that throughout his time working at Miami, he never felt like a middle man "till Al Golden arrived. They made me feel that way.''
"I don't think they had bad intentions, like they had some secret meeting -- 'How can we use Pee Wee?' It just kind of happened."
A UM spokesman declined to comment for this story.
What makes this part of the NCAA investigation even murkier is that when Allen had these interactions with Golden and his staff, they were likely at most, secondary violations, and Golden was unaware that the part-time equipment man had been tied to a rogue booster. It is a stretch to think that a new head coach, who gets in a mad scramble putting together a recruiting class in a matter of weeks, also would have extensive background information on every person working in a football office, from top to bottom. Still, the reality is when it's all bundled together with the Shapiro scandal because Pee Wee Allen is that link, it looks considerably worse than just some secondary violations.
Allen says he received some nasty voice mails from Shapiro from jail. "I turned them over to the U.S. Attorney.'' In June, 2011, Shapiro was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison and ordered to pay $82.66 million in restitution.
The last time Allen says he heard from Shapiro was two years ago. "He called me on a three-way line," Allen says. "He asked me for tickets to the FSU game. I said, 'Yeah, I'll look into it.' "
Allen, now 29, still lives in the same one-bedroom apartment in Miami. He is curious what the NCAA will ultimately do to the University of Miami and the football program. It is a complicated case, where he says there are many details that are tough to sort out when you're hearing so many different accounts of stories. It also didn't help that two of the three NCAA investigators that Allen initially met with have left the organization.
"I want to believe that they're being thorough and vetting the information that Nevin game them. They understand he has an incredible memory. He's like Rain Man. Hopefully, whatever the NCAA does, it will act quickly and everyone can move on. I love the UM program and the people who are a part of it, and always will."
It has been a chaotic ride for Allen ever since he arrived in South Florida, but he says he has no plans to move. Talking about his involvement in the Shapiro scandal has been "cathartic" he says. "Maybe people will now have a better understanding of what happened."
Allen no longer has a job and says he's trying to figure out his next move. "I need to find a career. I'm not a social worker, but I have learned a lot of life's lessons."