In the Spotlight

News & Features
Justice Department Investigates U of M
by Tom Scheck
April 14, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The U.S. attorney's office has issued two grand jury subpoenas seeking information about academic fraud in the University of Minnesota's men's basketball program.

University officials say they don't know who federal officials suspect of criminal wrongdoing, but the subpoenas suggest the matter involves former player Bobby Jackson's transfer to the U.

The U of M's attorney, Marc Rotenberg, says the subpoena regarding Bobby Jackson was similar to issues involving the problems at Baylor and that anytime the Postal Service and the FBI team up to investigate, it typically involves mail fraud.
THE UNIVERSITY RECEIVED two subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice. One demands all documents related to academic fraud within the athletic department from 1990 to the present. The other seeks information regarding the academic eligibility of former gopher and current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Bobby Jackson.

The subpoenas don't indicate what potential criminal behavior the Justice Department is investigating. A spokesman confirmed it has an ongoing investigation but declined to comment on specifics .

University of Minnesota Attorney Marc Rotenberg says he has no reason to believe the university or any current students of employees are the targets of the investigation. He says he can only guess as to what the Justice Department is looking for. "This is an unusual criminal case, we are aware of only one example where a federal prosecution has been successfully undertaken in a context similar to this," Rotenberg said. "We can only assume that the government feels that the unique situation here warrants this kind of step."

That other case involved the convictions of three Baylor University basketball coaches. The three assistants were convicted for federal conspiracy and wire and mail fraud charges. A jury found that they helped junior-college recruits cheat to gain admission to Baylor. However, the head coach and four others were acquitted.

Maxie Parrish was the sports information director at Baylor when that university received subpoenas in 1994. He says the university officials and former coaches should be concerned with the investigation. "The NCAA doesn't have subpoena power, they cannot make you testify under oath," said Parrish. "There's no such thing as perjury in the NCAA. But when you put your hand on the Bible, swear to tell the truth, you're compelled to do it or you're going to go to jail. It's a completely different ballgame, they're playing for keeps."

Rotenberg says the subpoena regarding Bobby Jackson was similar to issues involving the problems at Baylor and that anytime the Postal Service and the FBI team up to investigate, it typically involves mail fraud. The subpoena requested Jackson's junior college transcripts in Nebraska as well as two distance-learning courses he took while attending the University of Minnesota.

Distance learning classes allow a student to take a class and submit course work from a location off of the university and corresponds with professors through mail and e-mail. Rotenberg says the school's own seven-month investigation looked into Jackson's eligibility.

Jackson's attorney in San Francisco would not comment on whether his client was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. Meanwhile, Rotenberg says it was coincidence that his office sent former head coach Clem Haskins a letter suggesting the university may sue to get back at least some of his $1.5 million contract buyout. Ron Zamansky, an attorney for Clem Haskins, says the former coach is saddened for the university by the latest development. Zamansky says Haskins has not been issued a subpoena and is not involved in the investigation.

Listen In
Hear the news conference with University of Minnesota officials. Listen online
To learn more about the U of M scandal, see the special Web section.
The university's investigation concluded that the men's basketball team committed 28 NCAA violations. Earlier this week, the school imposed recruiting restrictions on the program and said it would pay back most postseason tournament proceeds from the years the academic fraud occurred. The school could still still face additional NCAA sanctions.

University of Minnesota Vice President Tonya Moten Brown doesn't expect the federal investigation to impede the NCAA's investigation. "I have visited with the NCAA enforcement staff and apprised them of these new developments the university has been assured that the NCAA intends to continue with it's own official investigation and hopes within the next month to issue it's official inquiry," she said.

Brown and other university officials had hoped an NCAA ruling would finally put this ordeal behind them. University attorney Rotenberg says he never thought the situation would merit a criminal investigation. Rotenberg is scheduled to appear before the grand jury on Tuesday morning.