Lance Thomas settles with jeweler
DALLAS -- Former Duke basketball player Lance Thomas has settled a lawsuit that accused him of failing to pay nearly $68,000 for jewelry purchased while he was part of the Blue Devils team that won the 2010 national championship.
Mike Bowers, the attorney for Rafaello & Co., said his client had agreed to settle the lawsuit against Thomas stemming from the nearly $100,000 in diamond jewelry the player purchased in the middle of the 2009-2010 season. The Dallas attorney said the terms are confidential, and he reiterated his client's unwillingness to discuss the matter with the NCAA, which is seeking details of the transaction.
"This is a private matter between my client and Mr. Thomas, and that's where it stands," Bowers said Tuesday.
Jon Jackson, Duke's associate athletic director for media relations and public affairs, said the settlement doesn't change an ongoing inquiry involving the university and the NCAA.
"The process remains the same in that Duke and the NCAA continue to work together on this matter," he said.
The lawsuit, filed in January in Austin, Texas, said Thomas owed $67,800 for five pieces of jewelry he purchased at a cost of $97,800. The invoice, dated Dec. 21, 2009, indicates that Thomas made a $30,000 down payment and agreed to pay the balance in 15 days.
Thomas started 39 games at forward for Duke in 2009-2010, his senior season, including the 61-59 victory over Butler in the NCAA championship game.
The lawsuit, which wasn't disclosed publicly until The Associated Press reported it earlier this month, has raised questions about Thomas' eligibility that season and whether Duke's national title could be affected. NCAA rules prohibit athletes from receiving benefits that aren't available to the student body as a whole.
NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the organization would not comment on the settlement and what it might mean in terms of investigating the matter. NCAA rules require student-athletes and personnel at member schools to cooperate with the organization's inquiries, but there's nothing to compel people who aren't affiliated with those schools to do so.
It makes getting anyone to cooperate in the investigation extremely difficult, which could mean the case will be hard to prove, let alone pursue, according to attorney Stu Brown, who specialzed in NCAA cases, of Indianapolis-based Ice Miller.
Brown told ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Tuesday that the NCAA must ask: "Did Thomas get a special settlement due to his status as a former Duke student-athlete? Did a Duke booster help with the settlement?"
Brown said Duke is also obligated to assist the NCAA in finding any relevant facts and must make an effort to get Thomas to cooperate with the NCAA. If there was a confidentiality agreement regarding how he secured the initial payment or the terms of the settlement, Brown said, it will make the investigation even more problematic.
"If there are benign explanations regarding the underlying transaction and the settlement agreement, the settlement agreement could allow one or both parties to talk to the NCAA, but not to comment publicly," he said. "That would be a little unusual but not unprecedented."
Brown said if the settlement agreement prevents any comment to a third party (which would include Duke and the NCAA), then "it is likely that this case will eventually fade away due to an absence of relevant information/evidence about what really happened.
"Without information from Thomas or the store, people may smell smoke, but it will be difficult to find a fire."
Thomas, now with the New Orleans Hornets, was playing last season for the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League when the suit was filed. He wasn't drafted by an NBA team when he left Duke.
Joe Crews, the Austin attorney handling the matter for Thomas, did not immediately return a phone message from the AP seeking comment.
Rafaello & Co., which also does business as A+A Diamonds Ltd., promotes itself as a jeweler that caters to professional athletes and other celebrities. On its website, the jeweler says its customers include actor Jamie Foxx, singer Alicia Keys and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
The firm filed a similar lawsuit against Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant last year, asserting that he owed $240,000 for jewelry he purchased between January and May 2010. The purchases occurred after Bryant had left Oklahoma State and was waiting for the NFL draft.
That suit also was settled out of court.
Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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