UPDATE (8/24): Three defendants in the San Diego game-fixing scandal pleaded guilty this month, admitting they bribed Brandon Johnson, the program’s leading scorer, to play poorly in exchange for profit.
The defendants, Steve Goria, Richard Garmo and Paul Thweni, all face a maximum of five years in prison.
For all the latest updates, click here.
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PREVIOUS STORY (January)
When the FBI informed Bill Grier of “Operation Hookshot,” the fourth-year University of San Diego coach was thrown into a state of shock.
“This thing shook me to my core,” Grier told Sports Illustrated in an in-depth report published Wednesday.
The report, written by SI.com’s Michael McKnight, provides a behind-the-scenes look at Operation Hookshot, an FBI investigation into a conspiracy that involves, among other things, game fixing and illegal gambling.
The Attorney General’s office has charged 10 people with “conspiracy to commit sports bribery, conduct an illegal gambling business and distribute marijuana,” according to SI.com, and three of those people — former players Brandon Johnson and Brandon Dowdy, and former assistant T.J. Brown — were involved with the San Diego men’s basketball program.
Johnson, a former star and the school’s all-time leading scorer, is the focal point of the investigation and is accused of influencing game outcomes in exchange for a monetary bribe. He’s also charged with soliciting another individual after his graduation to affect the outcome of a game in exchange for money.
Brown, the assistant, is believed to be the “bridge” between the players and a small group of gamblers, according to SI.com. One such gambler and bookie — Steve Goria, a 32-year-old Iraqi-American — had a desire to obtain inside information about players. Brown, meanwhile, had an interest in sports betting and was presumably driven by profit.
The entire operation was spearheaded by an FBI informant with the code name “Chas,” who participated because he was facing 10 to 20 years in prison for an unrelated cocaine charge and wanted to reduce his sentence, SI.com reported.
According to the report, Chas — one of Brown’s friends — tried to schedule meetings with players multiple times to discuss the possibility of influencing games in exchange for money. They didn’t even have to agree to shave points, but merely listen to him, and he would give them $2,000 to $5,000.
I’d encourage you to read the full report, which is exhaustive, but essentially, the most interesting nuggets focus around the possibility that San Diego games were fixed late in the 2010 season and that Johnson was involved.
No specific games have been mentioned in the report, but it’s worth noting that San Diego went on a 2-10-1 ATS stretch to close the regular season in 2009-10.
Is that merely a coincidence? It very well could be, considering the Toreros were pretty bad that season to begin with. One game that is under question is a Feb. 18, 2010, home game against St. Mary’s in which San Diego moved from +7 to +8.5. This was one of Johnson’s final games as a Torero.
Although Saint Mary’s won by 12 — a victory for all of the gamblers who bet against San Diego — Johnson’s performance doesn’t show signs of point shaving. As usual, the slashing, 6-foot guard led the Toreros in scoring. His 15 points included a nine-point flurry in the game’s final 3 ½ minutes — strong evidence that he wasn’t shaving points. Johnson took seven of USD’s last 11 shots, making four. He missed his last two shots, both three-pointers — one when USD was down by 13 with 3:23 left and the other when it was down by 10 with 1:46 remaining. This last attempt, had he made it, would have cut the lead to 7 — a dangerous dip beneath the betting line of 8 ½ points.
The bottom line: If this Saint Mary’s game is the one Johnson is accused of “influencing the outcome of,” convincing a jury of his influence might prove difficult.
In addition, on March 3, 2011, Dowdy allegedly approached a player currently on San Diego’s roster about influencing the outcome in exchange for money. That player, who spoke with SI.com only on condition of anonymity, refused and said, “I don’t want to get either one of us in trouble … He (Dowdy) wasn’t trying to influence me to do it. He said someone told him to present me with this opportunity and that’s basically what he did.”
In the Toreros’ following game on March 4, 2011, which proved to be their last of the season, they lost 84-81 to Pepperdine as 4.5-point underdogs — covering by 1.5 points.
The case will go to trial in September, according to SI.com. But based on the facts in this case, and based on the evidence that is currently being presented, it seems like it will be difficult to charge the defendants — Johnson, in particular — of any crime or wrongdoing.
In case you’re wondering, the Toreros are 7-9 ATS this season.