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Has the FBI exonerated Tim Donaghy?

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Tim Donaghy talks with TrueHoop (2:46)

Henry Abbott talks with former NBA referee Tim Donaghy about fixing games (2:46)

By Henry Abbott

Tim Donaghy has conducted more than 100 media interviews since his book came out. And in those I have seen, read or heard, whenever the idea of fixing games has come up he has been certain to include the letters "FBI" in his response.

The gist is that the FBI investigated and found he did not fix games.

It's a pretty good line! Who wants to question the FBI?

But did the FBI really investigate? The agent who led their research, Phil Scala, writes in the introduction of Donaghy's own book that their investigation was focused on money going to the Gambino crime family. Other kinds of misconduct, writes Scala, the Bureau left to others to investigate. Scala specifically did not say Donaghy did not fix games.

I'm not aware of anybody who has published a truly rigorous study of Donaghy's work as a referee while he was gambling. And absent that, I'm not sure why we should take his word for it that he didn't fix games.

You might say: OK, don't take his word. But take the NBA's word.

A couple of points there:

  • The NBA's Pedowitz report looked into some games, and even mentions finding some suspicious things, but acknowledges they left a ton of Donaghy games unexamined.

  • The NBA has no incentive to find that NBA games were fixed. On this issue, the NBA and Donaghy sing from the same hymnal. If it is found that Donaghy did fix games, the NBA has new profound trust issues with fans, to go with a tainted record book and countless irate owners, coaches and players who were cheated out of this or that win, bonus, playoff income, job and the like. Donaghy, for his part, could face more charges if it is found he fixed games.

When I talked to Donaghy last week, I asked him about his friend Phil Scala's failure to write that Donaghy did not fix games.

Phil Scala has not yet returned a call seeking comment.