SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
As he sits behind a computer in a New Orleans prison, the rage still boils inside Nevin Shapiro.
The angry e-mails this winter paint the picture of a man determined to destroy the UM football program. But UM remains optimistic he won’t be nearly as successful as he claims he will be.
“The public is going to hate me worse in the next coming months,” Shapiro, serving a 20-year sentence for a Ponzi scheme, wrote in numerous e-mails over the past few months. “It’s going to be severe and catastrophic. My feelings are getting inflamed and I’m going to pop off pretty soon with regards to them and the NCAA. I’m coming for them both [UM and former players] and I’m going to be successful.
“I’m taking that program down to Chinatown and the former players and links to that program. Why? Because the U.S. government lined up 47 former players to testify against me in open court if I went to trial. That in itself is motivation to shove it up their collective [butts].”
Nobody at UM believes Shapiro when he claims “UM is getting the death penalty or damn close to it.” The NCAA isn’t commenting on its investigation, which began last March, but here’s what people are saying, including UM administrators and Board of Trustee members:
### The NCAA has not told UM what punishment to expect, but there’s cautious optimism. UM’s understanding is the NCAA will dismiss any of Shapiro’s claims that it cannot corroborate and is highly skeptical about some of his allegations. Many of them have not been corroborated.
One top UM official said if Shapiro were under oath, UM could punch holes in much of what he says. UM expects to hear from the NCAA by early summer.
### One UM official said he expects “one more bowl ban, maybe two at most” plus undetermined scholarship losses. But that’s speculative, because UM hasn’t been told anything on either issue. Some are hopeful of escaping further bowl bans after last year’s self-imposed one.
### Al Golden said: “We think the worst is behind us. The [current] coaches and 95 percent of the players weren’t here when that thing went on. There’s a shift by the NCAA to go after the perpetrators and that’s not us.”
### Surprisingly, the NCAA hasn’t contacted many former players implicated by Shapiro. Samuel Shields said his son Sam, whom Shapiro claimed he gave a television, was never called by the NCAA and said Shapiro’s allegation is false.
The school believes none of the former Canes, excluding those still attending college elsewhere, are talking to the NCAA. The NCAA called several college players who aren’t at UM; some gave information that could hurt UM but others, such as ex-Cane Storm Johnson did not. Johnson, now at UCF, told the NCAA he had no contact with Shapiro, his father said. (Remember, only current college players, current coaches and current college employees are required to speak to the NCAA; all others are not.)
### Former UM basketball coaches Frank Haith, Jake Morton and Jorge Fernandez denied wrongdoing to NCAA investigators and claimed no knowledge of Morton’s alleged payoff intended for DeQuan Jones’ family, according to friends. The NCAA hasn’t corroborated the Jones allegation. "DeQuan Jones didn't do anything wrong, but that won't stop the proof of the cash payouts to Morton, with Haith's knowledge," Shapiro e-mailed. The NCAA apparently has no such proof, as of this time.
### Former assistant football coach Joe Pannunzio, now at Alabama, said he would do nothing to implicate UM, according to a friend, though one active player told the NCAA that Pannunzio was to blame for taking him to Shapiro. More problematic is Louisville assistant Clint Hurtt, who was implicated by several players for providing lodging during recruiting trips.... Also still problematic, among other things: Shapiro's co-ownership in a sports agency that signed Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason and recruited lots of others. But his partner, Michael Huyghue, has disputed Shapiro's claims and denied NCAA violations.
### The owner of one prominent local business where Shapiro allegedly took players said he did not return the NCAA’s call. Fashion Clothiers owner Shelly Bloom said the NCAA hasn’t called him, notable because Yahoo! claiming Bloom confirmed that Shapiro spent thousands of dollars on suits and clothing for Devin Hester, Tavares Gooden and Willis McGahee. Bloom disputed that Yahoo portrayal, saying he didn’t know for whom Shapiro bought the clothing.
### Shapiro said “114 is the true number” of players he has implicated “and that’s what the NCAA is working off” – not the 72 mentioned by Yahoo! But aside from the eight who were disciplined last year, allegations against many will be difficult or impossible to prove.
### Shapiro spoke of claims that have not “been brought to light yet” and that “the NCAA is aware and involved.” If there are such claims, UM people we spoke with aren’t aware of them.
### After a December agreement ensured that no current or former UM players will be asked to testify in front of the bankruptcy trustee, Shapiro said the former players “are going to have to tell the truth, but it’s not going to be [to] a trustee.” He has suggested UM players will be required to speak to the government.
But Michael Ward, who’s in charge of Newark’s FBI division (which investigated Shapiro's Ponzi scheme), said Shapiro’s allegations “against the players would not rise to the level of a federal crime. There is no FBI investigation of Shapiro’s allegations.”
Overall, Shapiro sounds like a desperate man, willing to say anything to exact revenge and still furious that "once the [ex-UM] players turned pro, they turned their back on me.'' Incredibly, he says of himself, "I'm more of a victim than a Ponzi schemer and assailant." The federal government doesn't see it that way.
A member of the Federal Department of Justice said Shapiro, 42, must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, equal to 17 years, for orchestrating the $930 million Ponzi scheme. He pled guilty, in September 2010, to one count of securities fraud and one count of money laudering.
### Carl Peterson’s friends say even though he and Stephen Ross discussed an executive position with the Dolphins, Ross would not give Peterson a title that would put him over CEO Mike Dee and GM Jeff Ireland because of faith in both. That eliminated any chance of it happening.
### One prominent NFL agent predicts the Dolphins and Redskins are the most likely to make the highest bids for Peyton Manning (health provided), but NBC’s Peter King expects Redskins executive Bruce Allen will tell owner Dan Snyder, “I’m not going to screw up my salary cap unless his physical comes back perfect.” Said King: Dolphins owner “Stephen Ross is most likely to give him whatever he wants, including the keys to his house.” Besides the Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals and Jets, keep an eye on Seattle, which has a lot of cap space.
### Though much was made of Larry Bird’s comments that he would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James “if you want to win and win and win,” Bird also predicted James “is going to win multiple championships and will go down as one of the top three, four, five players to ever play. He’s so good, I think people nitpick and expect so much of the kid. We should just enjoy him instead of pounding him.”
### The consensus on Marlins target Yoenis Cespedes is scouts love his speed, power, and arm and range defensively. The only concern we’ve heard is whether he’ll be more than a .260 or .270 type hitter. “I would have concerns about him being an above average bat at the big-league level,” one AL scout said. “He looks like he gets everything out in front of the plate. When you don’t see the ball longer and let it travel a little deeper, you are generally using one side of the field. He might hit for power, but if he doesn’t control the zone very well, he will have trouble hitting for average.”
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen told a Chicago radio station last week that Cespedes is "pretty impressive" but "there are a lot of question marks out there. How is he going to handle major league pitching? We don't know... Whoever signs him is gambling.'' The Marlins remain cautiously optimistic about signing him; Cespedes' agent has spoken to other teams, but the outfielder reportedly has met only with the Marlins so far.