Nevada's probe into free tickets hardly complimentary of Tarkanian By Timothy Dwyer

June 26, 1991|By Knight- Ridder

Once again, the Shark's in hot water and he's boiling mad. The latest Jerry Tarkanian controversy is over freebies to Nevada-Las Vegas basketball games, and once again, it involves Richard "Richie the Fixer" Perry.

But this time it is not Tarkanian's lifelong enemy, the NCAA, that is after what's left of his scalp, it's the local authorities -- Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.

A spokesman for Del Papa said the attorney general's office would meet with the University of Nevada's board of regents tomorrow to report the findings of an investigation that began in October.

For nine months, Del Papa has been looking into how complimentary tickets are given out at UNLV.

In the neon city in the sand, where free meals, free plane tickets and free hotel rooms are handed over routinely to high rollers seeking fortune and debt, free UNLV basketball tickets outglitter them all.

And, like everything else in Vegas, this story has its share of strangeness and mystery. The investigation, it turns out, was initiated at the behest of the board of regents, according to the spokesman for the attorney general.

Through UNLV's undefeated 1990-91 regular season, the investigation went along quietly. But Monday, Tarkanian's name was tied to the investigation when a Las Vegas television station, KLAS, reported that the winningest coach in NCAA history had left complimentary tickets for Perry four times in 1986 and 1987.

As part of his contract, Tarkanian controls about 230 tickets to Runnin' Rebels home games.

"This is so . . . ludicrous," Tarkanian said yesterday by telephone. "It's absolutely sick. This was in the '86 and '87 season, and all we knew then was that Perry was a summer-league coach from New York. It wasn't until '89 that we knew who Perry was."

Tarkanian, who has coached UNLV for 18 years, said that his signature was on only one of the ticket requests for Perry, and that the signature was forged. He said he knew nothing about the attorney general's investigation.

Tarkanian said he knew Perry only as Sam Perry until Time magazine published a story in 1989 revealing his real identity. Perry pleaded guilty in 1984 to a charge of conspiracy to commit sports bribery in connection with the Boston College point-shaving scandal. Perry was convicted in 1974 of fixing harness races at the Roosevelt and Yonkers race tracks in New York.

But it was a picture of Perry in his Las Vegas hot tub with three members of UNLV's 1989-90 national championship team that ultimately led to Tarkanian's agreeing to step down as head coach after next season.

Tarkanian has said that he told his players not to associate with Perry after his real identity had become known. And although a Las Vegas newspaper, the Review-Journal, published a photograph earlier this month of Perry sitting behind the UNLV bench, no direct link between Tarkanian and Perry has ever been established. Pressure mounted for Tarkanian to step down, and on June 7, he announced he would coach one more year, fight one more fight with the NCAA, and then retire.

But it is apparent he will not go quietly into retirement. Last week, he testified before a congressional committee, and charged the NCAA with conducting "a reign of terror" against big-time college basketball coaches.

Tarkanian said yesterday that it was a common practice to give seats out to basketball coaches.

"It's not against the rules," Tarkanian said. "We've been doing that for years. This was perfectly normal. It's not like it was a mistake. He was a coach, and it was before we knew who he really was. This is no big deal. The school knows about it. We talked about it a couple weeks ago."

On June 1, UNLV filed its response to an NCAA inquiry into alleged recruiting violations dating to 1986. A key part of the inquiry is UNLV's recruitment of New York high school sensation Lloyd Daniels. It was Perry who brought Daniels to Las Vegas to meet with Tarkanian. Daniels never played a game for the Runnin' Rebels after he was arrested on drug charges.

Tarkanian and Robert Maxson, UNLV's president, both have said that the school did not know Perry's true identity then, and that in no way was Perry a booster for the basketball program.

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