The alleged rule-breakers: Former NCAA employees.
NCAA President Mark Emmert revealed Wednesday that the Miami investigation is on hold after the governing body for college sports in this country discovered "a very severe issue of improper conduct" — specifically that the attorney for former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro was used to "to improperly obtain information ... through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA."
The NCAA does not have subpoena power. At least one of the people deposed by attorney Maria Elena Perez as part of Shapiro's bankruptcy case appeared under subpoena, and his testimony would not have been otherwise available to NCAA investigators. The investigators who were involved are no longer with the NCAA, Emmert said.
"How in the world can you get this far without it being recognized that this was an inappropriate way to proceed?" Emmert asked.
That's the question that the NCAA wants answered, and fast.
Miami has been bracing for the arrival of its notice of allegations — the charges it will have to defend itself against during the sanctioning phase of the NCAA probe.
Those allegations are now on hold until an outside review of the NCAA's procedures, specifically in this case, are completed.
"As we have done since the beginning, we will continue to work with the NCAA and now with their outside investigator hoping for a swift resolution of the investigation and our case," Miami President Donna Shalala said.
Emmert said the NCAA was trying to find out why part of the investigation was based on depositions specific to the bankruptcy case against Shapiro, who will have to repay $82.7 million to his victims as part of his sentence. One of those depositions was given Dec. 19, 2011 by former Miami equipment-room staffer Sean Allen — who has been linked to Shapiro and many of the allegations that he made against the university.
During that deposition done as part of Shapiro's bankruptcy proceeding, the phrase "University of Miami" was uttered at least 58 times either in questions or answers. Miami was not part of the Ponzi scheme that led to Shapiro's legal downfall.
And the timing of this also is curious. Several people who were to be named in the NCAA's notice of allegations against Miami have been told that the document was in the final stages of preparation — and one person who spoke with AP said at least one person who was to have faced a charge of wrongdoing was told the letter was scheduled for delivery to Miami on Tuesday.
Now it's anyone's guess when that will happen.
"We cannot have the NCAA bringing forward an allegation that's predicted on information that was collected by processes none of us could stand for," Emmert said. "We're going to move it as fast as possible, but we have to get this right."
Emmert spoke angrily at times during a half-hour conference call to discuss the findings, in which he revealed that he briefed the NCAA's executive committee and the Division I board presidents with some information about the Miami matter. He said he developed a better understanding of what went on in the days that followed, which led to the hiring of Kenneth L. Wainstein of the firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP to conduct the external review of what happened.
Wainstein, Emmert said, will begin his probe on Thursday, with the NCAA hoping that he can finish within two weeks.
"We want to make sure that any evidence that's brought forward is appropriately collected and it has the integrity that we expect and demand," Emmert said.
Perez, a Miami graduate, did not immediately return a request for comment from the AP on Wednesday. A person in Perez's office said that the attorney was working in New York and that she would be forwarded all messages.
Emmert said the NCAA learned of the alleged misconduct, in part, through legal bills presented by Shapiro's attorney for work that was not properly approved by the organization's general counsel's office. Emmert did not specify Perez by name, only referring to the attorney as "she," and the NCAA refused to confirm that Perez was the attorney in question.
"One of the questions that has to be answered, unequivocally, is what was the nature of that contractual arrangement and what was all the activity that that individual was involved with," Emmert said. "There is some uncertainty about all of that and it's one of the first orders of business for the firm that we've hired to investigate."
The Hurricanes' athletic compliance practices have been probed by the NCAA for nearly two years. Allegations of wrongdoing involving Miami's football and men's basketball programs became widely known in August 2011 when Yahoo Sports published accusations brought by Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year term in federal prison for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme.
Miami has self-imposed two postseason bans in response to the investigation. The Hurricanes also would have played in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game this past season, meaning they could have qualified for the Orange Bowl.
This would figure to be another significant issue for the NCAA and its enforcement department. Among the others pending:
— A California case filed by former Southern Cal assistant football coach Todd McNair, who said the NCAA was "malicious" in its investigation into his role in the benefits scandal surrounding Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller said he was convinced the actions of NCAA investigators were "over the top."
— Earlier this month, the NCAA was sued by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas W. Corbett, who claimed the sports governing body overstepped its authority and "piled on" when it penalized Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal last summer. The governor asked a federal judge to throw out the sanctions, arguing that the measures — which include a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine — have harmed students, business owners and others who had nothing to do with Sandusky's crimes.
And now comes Miami, an investigation that has taken a most bizarre turn.
"In my two-and-a-half years I've certainly never seen anything like this, and don't want to see it again," Emmert said.
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