Gambling NBA ref says his book publisher never paid him

Published June 13, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Tim Donaghy rose to the top of his profession, earning $250,000 a year as an NBA referee and becoming "a courtside witness to the greatness of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal."

In secret, he also rose in the world of illegal gambling by passing "inside information to wiseguys who were making millions of dollars on my picks and lining the pockets of Mafia heavyweights."

But in a St. Petersburg courtroom on Tuesday, a world away from the first game of the NBA finals, Donaghy was essentially fighting for scraps.

After chronicling his downfall in a book — which includes the quotations above — Donaghy is now suing his Largo publisher, claiming she failed to turn over any of the estimated $200,000 in sales revenue from the book, Personal Foul.

During his opening statement on Tuesday, Donaghy's attorney Nicholas Mooney said publisher Shawna Vercher "knew that she could exploit Mr. Donaghy because of his past issues."

When the book began selling "like hotcakes" in late 2010, she was able "to start living the high life because she found a cash cow," Mooney said.

But Khurrum Wahid, attorney for Vercher and her business, VTi Group, said profits were reduced because Donaghy asked for extras, such as asking the company to look into a movie deal, the possibility of selling the book in China, and help for a friend who wanted help setting up business.

Also, Wahid said, a company official and friend of Vercher's turned out to be stealing from the business, which made a "confusing mess" of the books.

Donaghy, 45, grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Villanova University, Mooney said. After trying a few other jobs, he eventually broke into the world of professional basketball refereeing.

In the NBA, he began betting on pro basketball games, including some that he worked. He has said he relied on what he knew about referees' biases toward different players. He claims he predicted outcomes 70 to 80 percent of the time.

But in 2006, his involvement deepened as he began taking payoffs in exchange for information. The FBI learned of the scheme during an investigation into the Gambino crime family.

Donaghy cooperated with the U.S Attorney's Office, which said he "compromised his objectivity as a referee." But in a distinction important to Donaghy, authorities said there was no evidence he fixed games.

An FBI agent from the case wrote the introduction to the book, saying Donaghy's story can help people learn "the chilling effects of diminishing the integrity of the soul."

Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $195,000 restitution to the NBA.

He has served his prison time. And he did have a plan for paying off the $195,000 — writing a book.

The trial is expected to continue through the week.