Gambling charges jolt Northwestern 2 ex-players allegedly fixed games in 1995

March 27, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CHICAGO -- Federal prosecutors said yesterday that two former Northwestern basketball players were indicted on charges they took bribes to fix Big Ten games during the 1994-95 season.

The indictments, which charged that two senior starters on the Northwestern team took money to ensure that the Wildcats lost by more than the point spread in three games early in 1995, dealt another blow to college basketball as it prepared for the NCAA semifinals and championship.

Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office here charged five people in two separate illegal gambling cases at Northwestern. The second case involved a former football player who the authorities said ran an illegal gambling operation, taking money from student-athletes, among others.

The Northwestern case becomes the latest in a long, inglorious line of college basketball gambling scandals, a legacy that dates to the early 1950s and includes the convictions last December of two Arizona State players for conspiring to fix the results of four 1994 games. Even Columbia, an Ivy League school devoid of sports powerhouses, was hit with a gambling scandal last month when a current and a former student were charged in connection with a gambling ring that prosecutors said was linked to organized crime.

Rick Taylor, Northwestern's athletic director, who called yesterday's point-shaving allegations an act of "betrayal of self, teammate, family, coaches, university and the very game itself," said they were symptomatic of a gambling problem that has become "endemic" in American culture. But he speculated that "perhaps, it is more prone to happen where students have money and come from an affluent background and they're smart -- because they think they can beat the system."

The indictments yesterday charged that Kenneth Dion Lee, now 24, a starting guard in 1994-95 and the team's top three-point shooter, and forward-center Dewey Williams, now 25, agreed to accept money from two men, Brian Irving and Kevin Pendergast, both now 27, who placed bets for themselves and other people.

The plan was to make Northwestern lost by an even larger margin than the betting line in three games against Big Ten teams.

In two of those games -- home games against Wisconsin on Feb. 15, 1995, and Penn State on Feb. 22, 1995 -- Northwestern lost by more than the point spread and Lee was paid $4,000, said Scott Lassar, the U.S. attorney for the Northeastern District of Illinois.

Prosecutors said Lee distributed some of the money to Williams and a third player, Matthew Purdy. Purdy was named as an unindicted co-conspirator, but was not charged, apparently because he was not a starter and because he was injured early in the game against Penn State.

In the third game, a road game against Michigan on March 1, 1995, Lee apparently demanded more money, Lassar said. But Northwestern, projected to lose by 25 1/2 points, played well enough that it lost by only 17. Lee and the other players did not get paid.

Lee and Williams both performed below average in the three games. Lee, who averaged 12 points a game for the season, scored nine, two and eight points.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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