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Thursday, December 15, 2005
Four Vikings charged in boat party scandal

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The crew's first hint that this wasn't an ordinary charter boat cruise was a guest list loaded with Minnesota Vikings. The second was when female passengers went below and started taking their clothes off.

On Thursday, the Vikings' "love boat" scandal -- which made the then-struggling team the butt of jokes on late-night TV -- washed ashore in court, with misdemeanor charges against quarterback Daunte Culpepper and three other players.

Culpepper, known for his clean-cut image and currently out on injured reserve, was charged with three counts -- indecent conduct, disorderly conduct and lewd or lascivious conduct -- as were teammates Bryant McKinnie, Fred Smoot and Moe Williams.

The boat-party charges quickly became the buzz on sports-talk radio, and hosts at KFAN-AM and other stations delighted in playing "The Love Boat" TV show theme over and over.

Authorities said they might have charged others if they had been able to identify them.

"The night of the incident, there was no shortage of inappropriate behavior on both boats," Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan said.

If convicted, each player faces up to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine on each count. A court date for the players was set for Jan. 5.

Prosecutor Steve Tallen charged the players based on an investigation by McGowan's office, which reviewed allegations of lewd and drunken behavior aboard a floating party Oct. 6 that involved some Vikings players.

Crew members complained that some people took off their clothes and engaged in public sex acts during the cruise, according to Stephen Doyle, an attorney representing the boat owners, Al & Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises in Mound.

On Thursday, Doyle said, "It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the pending charges. Let's give these men their day in court and presume they're innocent, and let the system work as it should."

The crew members were able to identify 17 Vikings among about 90 people on the two boats; McGowan said authorities ultimately identified about 30 Vikings aboard.

According to the criminal complaints:

After the boats left the dock, crew members noticed many female passengers going to a lower restroom area and emerging in scant clothing.

Culpepper got a lap dance from a naked woman in one boat's bar area, and put his hands on her buttocks. McKinnie placed a woman on a bar in the lounge area and performed oral sex; later, he and three other unidentified men received oral sex from four women while sitting in deck chairs.

Smoot used a sex toy on two women on the floor in the lounge area, and Williams got a lap dance from a topless dancer and placed his hands on her breasts.

Smoot and defensive end Lance Johnstone arranged the charter as an annual team party put on by rookie players for the veterans, according to court papers.

Smoot declined comment in the team's locker room before practice. Both Culpepper and Williams are on injured reserve and in rehabilitation on their own, away from the team. McKinnie wasn't seen in the locker room.

Vikings coach Mike Tice was careful with his reaction.

"According to NFL rules and union contracts, there is a large difference between allegations and charges and convictions," Tice said. "So until at any point there is a conviction of some type, if there is, I have no action to take and nothing to say."

After that, Tice threatened to stop talking to reporters if anyone asked more questions about the allegations.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was unavailable for comment. Kevin Warren, an attorney for the team, said the allegations were "very disturbing" and said Wilf wouldn't allow playoff considerations to affect suspensions if he thought they were called for.

"He will do the right and ethical and honorable thing ... if that's two weeks from now or six months from now," Warren said.

Reports that some women at the party were paid to come from outside Minnesota had raised the possibility of federal charges, but U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said Thursday that no such charges would be brought. Heffelfinger cited insufficient evidence.

That decision, along with sheriff's decision to send the case to Tallen's office, meant any charges would be minor. Tallen is the prosecuting attorney for the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which handles nonfelony crimes committed on the big lake just west of Minneapolis.

The boat scandal hit the Vikings when they were already reeling, off to a 1-3 start, and made them the object of national ridicule on late-night TV and cable sports channels. Wilf, who had been seeking state help for a new stadium, responded forcefully, apologizing to Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other state officials and instituting a new code of conduct.

The team has since recovered on the field and, with quarterback Brad Johnson replacing the injured Culpepper, ran off six straight wins to become a playoff contender at 8-5.

Running back Michael Bennett said he didn't think the charges would hurt the team heading into Sunday's game against Pittsburgh.

"Everybody's upbeat," he said. "We have the distraction today, but again we've dealt with it pretty well.

Receiver Marcus Robinson, asked if he was worried the whole team would be cast in a negative light, sounded philosophical.

"That's what happens in football. They label all football players the same, all athletes the same. That's just a part of our job right now. You've got to know who you are as an individual and worry about what you can control."

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report from Eden Prairie, Minn.