Miami seeks unprecedented request
The NCAA chief of rules enforcement fired as a result of errors made in the investigation of the University of Miami athletic program broke her silence Wednesday, taking responsibility for the matter while also hinting at the growing pressure her unit was under to make major infractions cases stick under president Mark Emmert.
Julie Roe Lach, the vice president of enforcement dismissed by Emmert in February, issued a statement Wednesday to ESPN's "Outside the Lines," on a day when the tactics of her unit and the objectivity of her bosses came under even greater attack from several angles.
"I accept responsibility for what happened on my watch and remain a believer in a strong enforcement program," Lach wrote in her statement. "Following the August 2011 presidential retreat, the enforcement staff had a clear charge to be innovative and deliver significant cases, which we did. Lost in the important discussion of the Miami case is the reality that enforcement was overhauled inside (the investigative arm) and out (the penalties) from 2010-2012.
"One misstep should not unravel the good work that's already been done, and more importantly, remains to be done by a committed and ethical enforcement staff. Enforcement staff members have a tough but critical job and show up to work every day motivated to do the right thing. I'm proud to have been their colleague."
Less impressed with the NCAA's enforcement arm is the University of Miami, underscored by documents acquired Wednesday by "Outside the Lines." On March 29, the school sent to a member of the NCAA Division I committee on infractions a letter outlining Miami's rationale for its unprecedented request to dismiss the case before its scheduled hearing in June.
Among Miami's concerns, as described in the letter by outside counsel Mike Glazier:• "Rewarding" former Hurricane booster Nevin Shapiro, the NCAA's chief witness against Miami, with a letter "vouching for his credibility" that was sent in June 2011 by then-NCAA investigator Ameen Najjar to the federal judge who would sentence him four days later for crimes related to his running of a $930 million Ponzi scheme.
The Najjar letter lauds Shapiro for his "great deal of assistance" to the NCAA and his "unique depth of knowledge and experience concerning (boosters), agents and the provision" of gifts and entertainment to athletes. The letter does not mention Shapiro was blowing the whistle on himself, as the booster at the center of the scandal. Najjar added the NCAA could "utilize Mr. Shapiro in the future as a consultant and/or speaker to educate our membership."
Glazier, in his complaint to the committee on infractions, also characterizes the Najjar letter to the judge as premature. He writes, "At that point in time, no investigation had been undertaken to substantiate his outrageous claims."
Emmert, in a recent interview with "Outside the Lines," said he agrees that Najjar should not have written the letter to the judge but considered it an insignificant gaffe.
"I think the letter is of trivial importance relative to the much bigger mistake," he said, referring to the NCAA hiring the Shapiro's bankruptcy attorney to subpoena witnesses to get them to testify under oath about rules violations. "It was a minor error in judgment."• Glazier characterized the hiring of the bankruptcy attorney, Maria Elena Perez, already acknowledged by Emmert as improper, as part of an "all-out approach to prove the most salacious allegations rather than discover what actually transpired at the university." He also alleged it was done with the "approval of NCAA executives."
The language stands in contrast to the conclusion of the external report by a law firm that was commissioned by Emmert to investigate the incident. The report concluded that while NCAA chief operating officer Jim Isch had given approval to Lach to use funds to retain Perez, the office of the general counsel had advised Najjar against hiring her and so he operated in a rogue manner.
Emmert told "Outside the Lines" that while he was briefed on the Miami case as early as 2011, he did not know about the hiring of Perez until after she had performed her work for the NCAA.
"It was completely inappropriate," he said of the arrangement.
The NCAA's external report suggests Miami's attorneys knew the NCAA was working with her.• The NCAA investigation's "constant turnovers, inexperienced investigators and overall mismanagement caused multiple unconscionable delays in a process which could have been concluded in much less time," Glazier wrote.
The case began when Shapiro contacted veteran NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier in February 2011, seeking revenge against the University of Miami for not standing behind him once he was revealed as a Ponzi-scheme artist. That summer, according to sources, Najjar, a former Indianapolis police officer, took the lead in a team structure that included several investigators. Johanningmeier retired in spring 2012.
Then, Najjar was fired in May 2012. A source close to the situation told "Outside the Lines" that Najjar departed after objecting to what he described as "ridiculous" pressure to wrap up the case against Miami. Another source said he was fired instead for a pattern of dishonesty that flowed from an inability to manage his increased work load.• Glazier also suggested the NCAA violated its principle of cooperative investigation with member schools, a charge he describes as the "most distressing and unconscionable." He wrote that the enforcement staff "intentionally misled the university by withholding key information, failing to inform the university of scheduled interviews and, most egregiously, lying to the university and its outside counsel."
Glazier did not specify in his letter which actions were tied to the above charges. He declined comment.
But the letter does say that former Hurricanes basketball coach Frank Haith and and his assistant Jake Morton were misled by investigators in an effort to get information.
Two investigators provided Haith and Morton with "false information regarding what other interview subjects had reported in attempt to elicit confessions of NCAA violations.'' The report states that this investigative tactic is against "the NCAA's bedrock principles of honesty, integrity and cooperation.''
The firing of Lach came as a surprise to NCAA staff, according to sources. A fast-rising star who had worked at the NCAA since graduating from college, she was hand-picked by Emmert in 2010 to lead the enforcement division.
Colleagues, and even attorneys that went up against her in NCAA infractions cases, found her hardworking and fair. But the external report commissioned by Emmert concluded that she demonstrated insufficient supervision of Najjar, even though she was the one who asked that he clear the use of Perez through legal counsel.
The external report also noted that Lach was "overwhelmed with a variety of weighty issues" that included the reorganization of the enforcement division and a growing number of major infractions cases that investigators were being asked to bring to conclusion more quickly.
"In light of her daunting workload, it is not surprising that Ms. Lach paid little attention to the legal approval process for the Perez proposal, other than to make sure it took place," the report stated.
On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported on emails by Najjar shortly after he was fired that questioned the motivation of "upper-level" managers at the NCAA. In one email to Shapiro, he reportedly wrote, "My belief is that they simply want to get the case done, even if it is half or only one-quarter done. I don't know if it is simply to meet some arbitrary timeline or the upper levels are trying to save Miami. I suspect it's the latter."
The emails were disclosed in a motion that Perez filed in U.S. District Court this week. In a later email to Shapiro, Najjar wrote about the NCAA's punishment of Penn State for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse matter. Najjar called the sanctions "a travesty" and that the "NCAA has/had no authority to impose any penalties in that situation," according to The Associated Press.
Miami was hit with the NCAA's most serious charge in February, "lack of institutional control." Unless Miami's motion for dismissal is granted, a hearing is scheduled to take place June 14. Miami already had self-imposed a ban on two bowl games as a pre-emptive measure.
The NCAA is pushing forward, reportedly asking questions about what Miami knew about Shapiro's behavior in the early 2000s as a way to establish that the school should have watched him more closely as he ingratiated himself with the program and athletes.
Najjar and an NCAA spokesperson were not immediately available for comment.
Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz was used in this report.