Thursday, August 25, 2011

University of Miami Sports Scandal Reaches Deep Into the Heart of Alabama

Nevin Shapiro (right) and former Miami
star Kellen Winslow

The evolving athletics scandal at the University of Miami has ties to Alabama--in more ways than one.

The most obvious connection involves the University of Alabama's football coaching staff, which includes former Miami assistants Jeff Stoutland and Joe Pannuzio. Reporters Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports broke the Miami story, and their investigation implicates Stoutland and Pannuzio in the wrongdoing.

But the Alabama connections, in a sense, go way beyond the coaching staff. At the heart of the Miami scandal is a renegade booster named Nevin Shapiro, who is incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme. Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 UM athletes from 2002 through 2010.

Alabama, it turns out, has a booster who probably can match Shapiro step for step in the rogue category. In fact, Paul W. Bryant Jr.'s connections to Alabama are way more powerful than those Shapiro enjoyed at Miami. After all, Bryant's father, the late Paul "Bear" Bryant, was the Crimson Tide's Hall of Fame coach for many years. And Bryant Jr. is more than just an enthusiastic fan; he is part of the university's leadership team, serving on its board of trustees.

Like Shapiro, Bryant has a history of shady business practices. Unlike Shapiro, Bryant managed to escape serious scrutiny from federal prosecutors. But how long will that last? If the NCAA is going to examine the actions of a rogue booster in Miami, shouldn't it also be taking a look at a questionable character in Tuscaloosa? If Shapiro is incarcerated for his role in a $930-million Ponzi scheme, why are Paul Bryant Jr. and his associates in Greene Group Inc. enjoying freedom?

As we have reported in more than a dozen posts, one of Bryant's companies has clear ties to insurance fraud. Public documents show that Alabama Reassurance was implicated in a $15-million scheme that netted a 15-year prison sentence for a Pennsylvania man named Allen W. Stewart in the late 1990s. An investigation of Alabama Re was called off, apparently because Bryant had friends in the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Alabama.

G. Douglas Jones, now a lawyer at the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter, had just become U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama when the Alabama Re investigation was called off. Multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Jones has ties to Bryant and has done legal work for him. I twice have asked Jones if he called off the Alabama Re investigation, and he has refused to answer the question. In fact, Jones has refused to answer any questions from me--including questions about his work with Rob Riley, son of former Governor Bob Riley, on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit that netted millions of dollars for plaintiffs' lawyers. Jones' refusal to answer questions from me is odd, given that he regularly is quoted in various media outlets. He becomes mute when the subjects of Paul Bryant Jr. and Rob Riley are raised.

Paul Bryant Jr. and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions

Public documents indicate that Bryant, in a curious move, planned to liquidate Alabama Reassurance, even though the company had admitted assets of $238 million in 2006. The company essentially was replaced by a new entity called Alabama Life Reinsurance Company, which like its predecessor, is under Bryant's Greene Group Inc.

The Yahoo! Sports investigation shows that Shapiro got into hot water largely because he mixed his business interests with his passion for University of Miami sports. The Miami story also involves both federal crimes and apparent NCAA violations. Reports Charles Robinson:

Some of Shapiro’s allegations were outlined in multiple recorded interviews with federal prosecutors – brought on by charges he misappropriated nearly $83 million in investor funds with a fraudulent grocery distribution business. And it was Shapiro’s cooperation in his Ponzi case – which encompassed both fraud and money laundering – which opened the door to his conduct at Miami.

“He agreed to cooperate with the government,” said Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena-Perez. “He had to be 100-percent truthful. And it has never been the government’s position that he lied about his conduct or the conduct of others in his discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“Once Miami was on the table, it opened up everything in that realm. And his cooperation with the NCAA was another level of him coming clean about conduct that wasn’t above board with investor funds – specifically things he was doing with everyone in the UM athletic program.”

Want a neat summary of the Miami story? Robinson provides it:

Ultimately, what documents show is a booster who broke NCAA rules while simultaneously making tens of thousands of dollars in annual contributions to Miami’s athletic program.

Paul Bryant Jr. seems to have quite a bit in common with Nevin Shapiro. Bryant has donated significant dollars to the Alabama athletic program, and he has clear ties to financial skulduggery.

Do the comparisons go even farther? Federal prosecutors, and the NCAA, should be looking into that question.


jeffrey spruill said...

A picture is worth a thousand words.

In the picture of Paul Bryant Jr. and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions--isn't U.S. Sen. Sessions smiling at Bryant Jr.?

Robby Scott Hill said...

The power of Paul Bryant Jr. to make policy & decisions in government agencies where he is not an employee ceases to amaze me. My boss at the State Lands Division, James Hillman Griggs, Esq., did not think twice about telling Ron Jones of the Examiners of Public Accounts to go to hell, but a phone call from Paul Bryant was an entirely different matter. Don't think that Paul Bryant just happens to share a name with his famous dad & Bama fans bestow titles on him in honor of his late father. Bryant Jr. is a genius & a power broker who has the liquid cash to convince mayors, county commissioners & judges to switch from the Democratic to Republican Party.

legalschnauzer said...

Rob: Isn't it ironic that a supposed Democrat, Doug Jones, probably is the individual who is responsible for helping Bryant escape scrutiny in the Alabama Re investigation. I have asked Jones point-blank twice: "Did you call off the investigation of Alabama Re?" Both times he has refused to answer.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Yes, Ironic, but I would look more at the Clinton White House staff & the judges more than Doug Jones. I suspect like many prosecutors, he was instructed to wait on the "green light" & they never gave it. That could be why he isn't exactly chomping at the bit to volunteer for anything under Eric Holder & BHO.