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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Rumblings: The Brooklyn five
By Joe Goldstein
Special to ESPN.com
Late in the afternoon on January 29, 1945, two Brooklyn College basketball players took a stroll to an apartment on Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn.
On that day General George S. Patton's Third Army invaded Germany at two points and the Russian armies swept through Germany at several points and were within 93 miles of Berlin. World War II was coming to an end.
The players had come, they maintained, to inform Henry Rosen and Harvey Stemmer from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn that they would not "intentionally lose" the game scheduled for the next evening against Akron University in the Boston Garden.
When the players entered the apartment, several police and detectives surrounded them and the youths blurted: "We came to tell them we weren't going to throw the game." The detectives responded aggressively, not knowing the players had accepted $1000 to "throw" the Akron game.
This would be the first sign of a gambling scandal in college basketball that would spread through the years involving countless players and more than 50 colleges.
Rosen was a fence for stolen goods, who directed 20-25 high school age youths in Garment Center thievery. His activities as a Fagin was the reason the police were in his apartment. It was an accidental development, as detectives under Captain Richard Fennelley had been trailing Rosen (as a suspected fence for stolen goods).
In the apartment, it was revealed that Stemmer and Rosen were to give the players another $2,000 after the Akron game. The loot, according to New York District Attorney Francis S. Hogan, totaled $250,000. Rosen was booked by Hogan's detectives at the Elizabeth Street Station in Manhattan.
Stemmer and Rosen were taken into custody and charged with "bribery and conspiracy." The two players were not arrested as was the case with the three teammates who joined in the admission of accepting $1,000 collectively to throw the game. No charges were made against the five Brooklyn College players. The prosecutors sent the Brooklyn College five home after they signed the statement admitting their involvement. It is for this reason the names of the Brooklyn College players are not listed. They were not arrested or tried, thus never convicted of a crime. And the Akron contest was never played. The players were cooperative Grand Jury witnesses for a panel formed by the famed Brooklyn attorney and jurist, Samuel S. Leibowitz. According to New York law, no crime was committed by the Brooklyn players, but this would be changed by the New York State Legislature on April 9, 1945.
This was remarkably fast for a piece of legislation to be enacted, but it was ardently supported by three outstanding New York historical figures--William F. O'Dwyer, Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia of New York City and Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
Chapter 602 of the laws of 1945 (an act to amend the penal law, in relation to bribery of participants in games, sports, contest) was signed by Governor Dewey on April 9, 1945. The law added new language to existing laws. The law in force in 1945 before the indictments of Rosen and Stemmer referred only to professional sports and horse racing. Professional sports were referred to as baseball, boxing, football and hockey. The legislation adopted in New York added polo, tennis, basketball and broadened the coverage in all these sports to include amateurs.
Additionally, there was an amendment which included the phrase "or to limit his team's margin of victory." This is the first reference to point shaving, which was a new gambling device at the time. Conviction under the new law was now considered a felony.
A contentious point in the indictment of Rosen and Stemmer was the language specifying professional sport. The five Brooklyn College players who testified before the jury trying Rosen and Stemmer played college basketball. This point was argued by Stemmer's counsel. The charge against Stemmer maintained that "the defendant feloniously gave to five men who were to be participants in a professional game of sport, to wit, a basketball game, $1,000, and promised them $2,000 more with intent to influence, the said five men to lose a professional game of basketball in which they were to participate."
Stemmer's counsel, Edward H. Levine, further maintained that the game mentioned was a collegiate match, not a professional game and furthermore that the game had not actually been played. His argument did not go beyond this contention at the arraignment. It is understood, however, that the word "professional" went into the complaint to conform with the existing penal law's section of bribery, which did not cover amateurs.
On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe was ended--Germany having surrendered on May 6--with the armistice formally ratified in Berlin.
The same date before Kings County Judge Louis Goldstein and a jury, the details of the Brooklyn payers' acceptance of a bribe to lose a scheduled game with Akron in the Boston Garden were cited.
The next day, May 9, Judge Goldstein excoriated Rosen and Stemmer after the jury (deliberating for four hours) found the pair guilty of "conspiracy to cheat and defraud." He sentenced Stemmer immediately to the penitentiary for one year and a $500 fine, the maximum for a misdemeanor.
Sentencing of Rosen, who was remanded to the Brooklyn City prison, was scheduled for May 16. The jury had requested mercy for Rosen, who had an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps and was the father of three children.
At Rosen's sentencing on May 16, he received one year in the penitentiary from Judge Goldstein, but a month later in Manhattan's General Sessions Court, Judge Gould Schurman, Jr. sentenced Rosen to 15 to 30 months in state prison for receiving stolen property.
While Judge Goldstein was harsh on Stemmer and Rosen, he praised the five Brooklyn players, saying "the players are five American boys of excellent character and reputation...but you two defendants brought disgrace and humiliation to these young men."
When Judge Goldstein sentenced Stemmer he commented from the bench: "By this conviction and sentence I serve notice on those chiseling and crooked gamblers who infest our proud city, New York is not a safe place in which to operate. Every one of them should be driven out of the community."
However, Stemmer was not driven out of the community. He would infect another sport, pro football, with an attempt to fix the 1946 NFL Championship game.
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