|NCAA president Mark Emmert says the NCAA's focus has been on enforcement. (US Presswire)|
The NCAA's vice president of enforcement approved a five-figure payment to the attorney of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro in order to obtain information in its ongoing Miami infractions investigation, two sources with knowledge of the arrangement told CBSSports.com.
The sources said enforcement director Julie Roe Lach discussed and approved the disbursement of at least $20,000 in October-November 2011. The NCAA is already conducting an external review investigating what it called "improper conduct" by its enforcement arm.
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The NCAA claimed former enforcement staff members improperly gained information from a deposition conducted by Shapiro's attorney, Maria Elena Perez. The NCAA never named the attorney directly. Two men with ties to Shapiro were deposed by the attorney in a bankruptcy proceeding in December 2011, CBSSports.com has learned.
"Whether or not Julie approved [the action], it will be part of the external review process," said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams. "However, the review is solely focused on enforcement."
Roe Lach approved "a budget line" for Elena Perez that would pay for "legal fees and expenses," according to the sources. The attorney has received some money from the NCAA for her services. Another source characterized the Roe Lach strategy in using Elena Perez as an attempt "to crack this case wide open."
CBSSports.com tried to contact Roe Lach directly via voice mail and email for comment. She did not respond. Instead, CBSSports.com was emailed by NCAA media relations: "Julie shared that you were trying to follow up with her. We do not have anything further to share at this time beyond the press conference and statements by President Mark Emmert regarding the external review of the enforcement program."
CBSSports.com reported late last month that the NCAA paid for the services of Elena Perez to conduct depositions in a federal bankruptcy case in order to get evidence of NCAA violations. According to one source, Elena Perez asked a series of questions to former Miami equipment manager Sean Allen and Michael Huyghue, a former NFL agent and former commissioner of the United Football League.
The depositions were conducted on Dec. 19, 2011, which would match with a timeline put forth by Emmert last month when the association's external review was announced.
The Miami New Times reported last year the details of Allen's deposition. Allen confirmed many of the original allegations of NCAA wrongdoing against Shapiro according to the New Times. Elena Perez later told the Miami Herald that the NCAA has Allen's deposition and that "their view is that Mr. Allen was not being forthcoming."
The information obtained from the depositions was termed of "mutual interest" to Shapiro and the NCAA, according to a source close to the case.
The one-time, high-rolling Shapiro is working with a bankruptcy trustee to repay money owed to creditors. He is currently serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for his role in a $970-million Ponzi scheme.
The NCAA does not have subpoena power and cannot compel witnesses outside of its jurisdiction (current coaches, administrators, athletes) to testify. Elena Perez told CBSSports.com she was not being used to give the NCAA access to subpoena power.
"There is nothing wrong," she said.
The Florida Bar has a file open "on Maria Elena Perez to investigate possible violations ... related to the University of Miami /NCAA case," said Francine Walker, director of public information for the Florida Bar. "No other information on that file or the investigation is available at this time."
Elena Perez has no public disciplinary history, according to the bar.
Elena Perez told CBSSports.com on several occasions that she was not formally retained -- hired -- by the NCAA.
Any retention agreement between attorney and client should be in writing, according to Fletcher Baldwin, University of Florida professor emeritus.
"I would never say an oral agreement [is binding]," he said.
Baldwin added: "Once the attorney has been retained, attorney-client privilege kicks in, period, at that point. If the attorney reveals any information that is privileged he or she faces disbarment or a reprimand."
In any NCAA investigation, the enforcement staff is charged with conducting an independent, objective investigation. The core issue of last month's NCAA announcement was that the association used the attorney of a central figure in a major infractions case to obtain information. If nothing else, that could indicate an ethical breach. In that scenario, the NCAA would have entered into an arrangement with Elena Perez, who owed loyalty both to her client, Shapiro, as well as the organization that was investigating allegations of NCAA rules violations committed by him as a Miami athletics booster.
ESPN.com reported on Jan. 24 that both NCAA general counsel Donald Remy and Roe Lach approved of using Elena Perez. Emmert said last month on a conference call that Remy would have had to approve such an action but that the issue never reached his desk. Emmert added that the expense to use Elena Perez was discovered "months later" when expense reports were flagged.
CBSSports.com asked the NCAA via email about the contradictory reports regarding Remy's role. The NCAA then released a statement saying "reports" that Remy had approved the action were not true.
"In fact," the statement said, "evidence shows the General Counsel's Office specifically told the enforcement staff — on at least two occasions prior to any arrangements being made with the attorney — that they could not use Shapiro's attorney for that purpose. As a result, the external investigation is solely focused on the behavior within and the environment of the enforcement program."