Marvin Austin, the former UNC football player whose tweets launched an NCAA probe that resulted in sanctions, told special agents that he received several thousand dollars in cash from an agent while he was a student, according to warrants unsealed in Wake County Superior Court on Monday.
The money was sent to the player’s Chapel Hill home in a FedEx package with a bogus name on it, according to the warrants.
Those comments led investigators with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office to look into the actions of Terry Shawn Watson, a sports agent based in Atlanta. Watson lists as one of his clients Cortland Finnegan, an NFL player who signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the St. Louis Rams.
A.H. Jones, a special agent with the Secretary of State, said in an Oct. 23 search warrant application that Austin told him: “Terry Watson was a guy who gave me money.”
Austin said during an interview on Sept. 17, 2010, that Watson had given him $2,000 in cash on one occasion, according to Jones.
The player told investigators that Willie Barley of Miami facilitated the payment. The cash was sent in a FedEx package delivered to the Chapel Hill home where Austin lived during his college years.
When asked whether a money order or check arrived, Jones contends that Austin said: “No, it was green backs,” “cash.”
The package, according to investigators, arrived on May 4, 2010, the same month that Austin and other UNC players popped up at a pool party attended by NFL players in Miami.
Agents, financial advisers and other businessmen were swarming around Austin, a defensive star at UNC who was seen as a first-round draft pick.
Interviews with Austin, now with the NFL’s New York Giants, led state investigators to Patrick Jones, a longtime friend of Watson’s “who confessed to sending FedEx packages containing cash to student athletes at the request of Watson,” A.H. Jones stated in his search warrant application.
“He stated the money was sent to the student to entice them into signing a contract with Watson,” the search warrant documents state. “Jones stated that this was the only way Watson could compete with the bigger athlete agents and their companies.”
The investigator with the Secretary of State’s office also stated that Patrick Jones said “packages containing cash had been sent to many other student athletes at schools other than UNC-CH. He could not recall how many packages he had sent to North Carolina student athletes, but he did know that others had received cash.”
A Class I felony
The multi-year Secretary of State probe has yet to result in any criminal charges. The Secretary of State’s Office is the agency that regulates sports agent activity in North Carolina.
A violation of the state’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act is a Class I felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of 15 months. A civil penalty of as much as $25,000 also can be assessed.
The criminal probe began about a month after the NCAA investigation into the UNC football program was launched.
The NCAA investigation led to sanctions against the UNC football program and to dismissal of players from the team. That led to further allegations of academic misconduct among players.
Since then, Butch Davis resigned as the football coach. Dick Baddour announced his resignation as athletics director sooner than he had planned. And Chancellor Holden Thorp announced that he will step down this summer after a scandal involving a top fundraiser and academic fraud in the African and Afro-American Studies department.
In March 2011, a warrant executed by the Secretary of State’s Office alleged that Gary Wichard, a sports agent who has since died, paid for Austin to travel to California.
The warrant also stated that Wichard said he and Austin had several phone conversations, beginning with contact Wichard initiated in January 2009. According to state law, an agent must be registered in the state to initiate contact with an athlete. Wichard’s registration in North Carolina expired Dec. 31, 1998, and had not been renewed, according to the warrant.
The NFL Players Association suspended Wichard’s contract adviser status in December 2010 for nine months for having impermissible communications with Austin. Wichard died in March 2011.
UNC-CH dismissed Austin from the team for the 2010 season for receiving benefits that Baddour estimated at $10,000 to $13,000. The warrant contended that Austin received benefits before the 2009 season, when he played for the Tar Heels as a junior.