NEW YORK – The NBA referee suspected of betting on – and even fixing – games plans to surrender in New York next week in anticipation of an indictment that could shatter the credibility of professional basketball, authorities said.
Federal prosecutors put a rush on grand jury action after Tim Donaghy was unmasked as the hardcourt official who allegedly placed bets with mobbed-up bookies on games he called during the past two seasons.
Donaghy, a 13-year veteran, has resigned from the National Basketball Association – but now faces possible illegal gambling charges in a takedown by the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office.
The scope of the scandal is still unknown. Law enforcement officials believe it began when Donaghy piled up gambling debts and fell prey to a predatory gambling ring.
Authorities believe Donaghy placed thousands of dollars worth of bets on games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, including matchups he officiated.
The FBI is still investigating whether the 40-year-old Florida resident deliberately made calls to affect the point spread or over/under set by the bookies.
“(Whether he fixed games) hasn’t been determined, but if he’s calling a game that he’s also bet on, it stands to reason he had something to do with the outcome,” a law enforcement source said.
According to the Web site Covers.com, Donaghy ranked third among the NBA’s 60 refs last year for calling the most games where the final score topped the projected over/under line.
Home teams also had a dismal 30-41-3 record against the point spread in games he officiated.
Vegas bookmakers said they hadn’t seen any unusual NBA betting patterns.
“At this point, it’s too early to know if any games were affected,” said veteran oddsmaker John Avell, of the Wynn resort.
Defense lawyer John Lauro, a former federal prosecutor, confirmed Donaghy is under investigation but refused to comment further.
Even though no formal charges have been brought, NBA Commissioner David Stern didn’t give Donaghy the benefit of the doubt.
“We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports,” he said.
The commissioner said the NBA is cooperating with the investigation and would “take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again.”
If the grand jury votes to indict Donaghy, the feds expect to arrest him – and several bookies with loose ties to mob associates – on Wednesday.
His name surfaced in the late stages of a year-long illegal betting investigation led by the FBI’s Gambino crime family squad.
A law enforcement source said it does not appear any made members of the city’s five crime families had their hooks in Donaghy – who apparently has a gambling problem.
In Bradenton, Fla., a “For Sale” sign was posted outside Donaghy’s ranch-style home in an exclusive gated community of multimillion-dollar houses built around an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.
A woman who answered the door refused to comment.
Donaghy was one of three referees in the infamous 2004 brawl game in Michigan between the Pacers and Pistons that spilled into the stands.
A year earlier, former Pistons player Rasheed Wallace confronted Donaghy after a game and pretended he was going to punch him for calling a technical foul on him earlier. Wallace received a seven-game suspension.