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Lucky Strike co-owner said UM President Donna Shalala 'shouldn't be demonized' in infamous photo

By now, you've seen the picture or read about it from someone ripping the administration at the University of Miami.

Donna Shalala Former booster Nevin Shapiro holding a bowling ball, standing next to former men's basketball coach Frank Haith and UM President Donna Shalala, who is looking down and smiling at what was a $50,000 check the convicted felon made with stolen Ponzi money at Lucky Strike Lanes in Miami Beach back in 2008.

Shapiro told Yahoo! the picture sums up "the whole problem [at UM] right there." Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel described Shalala in the picture as having "the promise that thousands might one day turn to millions practically dancing above her head."

But Shapiro's old friend, Lucky Strike co-owner Brian D. Elias, said he wishes somebody from Yahoo! would have called him to ask him about that particular picture. "Because then maybe," Elias said. "the entire country would have a more accurate portrayal of Shalala other than somebody who is in bed with the devil."

Elias, a 49-year old Law School grad of UM, said he was there the night Shapiro presented UM with the $50,000 check because he co-hosted and helped plan the event.

"We were going to introduce Frank Haith and at some point Nevin said, 'Can I have the mic I'd like to say something,'" Elias said. "So he grabbed the mic and literally, spontaneously said 'I'm going to make a donation for what I think was $50,000.'

"We were all stunned. It's funny when you look at the picture, Donna is looking down at the check smiling because I think she was stunned. So naturally, you see the picture and we were all smiling. When you're trying to fundraise and get a check like that, it was a huge success. But I just think the way this picture has been talked about in articles, it demonizes her. And that couldn't be further than the truth."

Among Shapiro's many allegations against the school he supported for years as a booster is that he often treated UM players to food and entertainment at Lucky Strike including current players Ray-Ray Armstrong, Travis Benjamin, Dyron Dye, Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Jojo Nicolas and Aldarius Johnson.

On at least one occasion according to the Yahoo! story, Shapiro alleges he rang up a bill of $2,114.18 on Sept. 13 to Sept. 15 during a "bowling for dollars" event where he gave players on winning teams $100 each.

Elias said while that may have happened under his nose, he doesn't remember seeing Shapiro at Lucky Strike often with UM players. But he does remember Shapiro ringing up similar tabs while he partied with his girlfriend and others.

"He would go there virtually every weekend to watch college and pro football," Elias said. "It got to a point where we would speak every time I saw him there. We became friends. He may not have been tall in stature. But he had a huge personality. Everybody liked him. People gravitated to him, I'm not talking about football players, I'm talking about people in general. He liked to brag about not just UM [players], but anybody, playing around with Dwyane Wade, Shaq, the Chief of Police. He never ever, ever, mentioned to me he had a tournament bowling for dollars at Lucky Strike in all the times I knew him.

"Now, occasionally I would see a few UM players there. I don't ever recall seeing all the guys he mentioned, usually it was two or three who came to watch football or bowl or whatever. Now, I never collected credit cards, but he never ever told me he paid for them. He never he told me he paid for this bowling for dollars. In seems to me in knowing him and the the way he would talk about all his contacts with famous people he would have said it. But he never mentioned that to me."

Elias said that to his knowledge nobody from Yahoo! contacted him nor anybody on his staff about the allegations made by Shapiro. And he says none of his friends who associated with Shapiro ever imagined he would be involved in such a way with UM players or much less a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

"I never went out with him. But I remember friends tell me all the time that they would go to Club Mansion, Cameo and Nevin was ordering bottles like crazy," Elias said. "That's just what he did for everybody. He was a really generous guy. Obviously if you believe what you read, it was with other people's money. But he was an incredibly generous guy.

"I've met Donna on four or five occasions and what I know of her she had absolutely no idea those funds were from some illegitimate source. I'm a pretty astute guy, I'm not a dope and I was clueless he was running a Ponzi scheme. To say I'm shocked by what I've read would be an understatement."