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Another ugly chapter in disgraced NBA ref's tale

VTi Group CEO Shawna Vercher, 33, has complained to Largo police that she has been threatened by former NBA referee Tim Donaghy over proceeds from Donaghy’s book.


VTi Group CEO Shawna Vercher, 33, has complained to Largo police that she has been threatened by former NBA referee Tim Donaghy over proceeds from Donaghy’s book.

LARGO — Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy hoped his book, showing how he became the "central figure in a Mafia-controlled gambling ring," would earn enough to pay off a $200,000 debt. He also hoped it would provide some financial security for himself and four daughters.

To date, he hasn't gotten a dime.

Instead, he finds himself embroiled in a bitter dispute with his Largo-based publisher. He said she has refused to give him information about the financial success of his book, Personal Foul.

She said Donaghy threatened her, mentioning mob connections.

On top of that, she said, she has information that Donaghy may have committed more serious crimes.

• • •

As a referee in the National Basketball Association, Donaghy lived his dream. He raced the court with superstar athletes and mingled with celebrities.

About seven years ago, he began betting on pro basketball, including games he officiated. He said he relied heavily on what he knew about referees' biases toward different players to predict the outcome of games. He claims he was right about 70 to 80 percent of the time.

The mob got wind of his success. In late 2006, Donaghy began taking payoffs in return for his tips.

An FBI investigation of the Gambino crime family uncovered the scheme.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Donaghy, who cooperated with the investigation, "compromised his objectivity as a referee." But it said there was no evidence he fixed games.

Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay about $195,000 in restitution to the NBA. He got out in November.

VTi Group, a small Largo-based media and marketing firm, agreed to publish his book. Triumph Books had dropped him in the fall after a legal review of the manuscript.

The initial printing, 10,000 books, sold within three weeks, said VTi chief executive Shawna Vercher. But Donaghy and Vercher's relationship quickly deteriorated. In March, they cut ties.

Donaghy said he broke things off because Vercher tried to tack on additional costs and wouldn't provide him with financial details.

Vercher's side of the story: Donaghy called her office incessantly, became increasing hostile, demanded money and made veiled threats.

"Mr. Donaghy explained to me he had connections in the mob and the Gambino crime family and that they had an active member near me," said Vercher, 33.

Donaghy vehemently denied ever saying anything like that.

"She's using tabloid tactics to try to say I'm a bad person because the bottom line is she has not given me a full and accurate account of the profits and proceeds for Personal Foul," said Donaghy, 43, who repeated a similar mantra about 20 times during an interview at a Panera Bread, near his Sarasota home.

• • •

Before Donaghy takes his cut, earnings from Personal Foul go to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which will make sure the NBA gets its money.

But Donaghy doesn't want to wait for the government to sort things out. He wants Vercher to show him the figures, now.

"Why should I have to wait and go through all that when I have a contract in place," Donaghy said. He now works sporadically with a New Jersey-based group called Firstep, doing interventions for people with gambling addictions.

Donaghy's Tampa attorney, Nick Mooney, said Vercher failed to provide the government with a complete accounting, either.

Vercher said she is cooperating fully with the U.S. Attorney's Office, which refused to comment on the case.

Both have also shared accusations about each other with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Basically, she's written this 20-page dissertation as to how terrible Tim Donaghy has been all of his life," said Mooney, a former assistant statewide prosecutor and former assistant state attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit.

In May, Donaghy wrote the U.S. attorney alleging that Vercher misappropriated proceeds from the sales of his book.

About two weeks later, the government sent Vercher a subpoena, requesting records related to Personal Foul, including contracts, checks and communications between VTi and Donaghy's ex-wife.

Donaghy and Vercher have also complained to local authorities.

Here's how that played out, according to law enforcement reports:

On April 28, Vercher told Largo police that Donaghy threatened her about two months earlier. After Vercher contacted Donaghy's probation officer, the threats ceased, she said. But according to Vercher's sworn statement, she got a call from Mooney in April, stating that Donaghy wanted a royalty payment and to audit her books and that both he and Donaghy were coming to her office.

"Mr. Donaghy is a felon with known mob ties and a self professed gambling addict," she said. "Our entire office is fearful of our safety."

The officer, who filed the report for "documentation purposes," determined no crime had been committed because Donaghy did not attempt to contact her after the probation officer got involved.

Two and a half weeks later, Donaghy made a complaint of his own to Largo police after Vercher told various news outlets she recorded his threats. If she taped him without his consent, it could be a violation of Florida law. Police found no proof she did.

Around the same time, Donaghy's attorney made a similar complaint to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Vercher told the sergeant she kept a log of Donaghy's calls, but used the word "recorded" when telling Donaghy she could prove he had been threatening her to prevent future threats.

The sergeant closed the case, saying he did not have enough information to prove a crime had been committed.

• • •

Now, Vercher is floating another theory why Donaghy is accusing her of taking his money. She said he's trying to ruin her credibility because she knows something that could get him in trouble.

She said that in December, shortly after she started working as Donaghy's publisher-publicist, Donaghy agreed to take a lie detector test. Then he backed out, saying he would fail if he was asked about fixing games.

Donaghy, who has since self-published his book, denies Vercher's version of events.

"I said I would, but I wanted the questions to be very specific as to what fixing a game was and what fixing a game was not," Donaghy said. "Because we as referees all did things in games, sticking it to different players at different times."

After expenses, which Donaghy claims are inflated, Vercher expects profits to total less than $100,000. That wouldn't pay off Donaghy's debt, much less give him financial security.

Vercher said she doesn't plan to take a cut. She just wants to extricate herself from the situation as soon as possible.

"Money does strange things to people," Vercher said. "Even alleged money does strange things to people."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at or (727) 445-4155.

Another ugly chapter in disgraced NBA ref's tale 07/31/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 31, 2010 9:52pm]
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