Lawsuit reveals more allegations against Ohio State basketball program
Posted: Wednesday June 9, 2004 10:43PM; Updated: Friday March 10, 2006 1:03PM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On the heels of Tuesday's announcement by Ohio State that head basketball coach Jim O'Brien has been fired for giving money to a one-time recruit, SI.com has learned of numerous other allegations surrounding the Buckeyes basketball program, some of which violate NCAA rules. Those allegations include extra financial benefits for players, illegal contact between agents and athletes, school grade changes and a sexual affair involving a player.
Slobodan (Boban) Savovic, who played for the Buckeyes from 1998-2002 after arriving in the U.S. from then war-torn Yugoslavia, is at the heart of an August 2003 lawsuit. Kathleen Salyers, a 47-year-old, Columbus-area part-time housekeeper, filed the suit against Dan Roslovic, an Ohio State grad and an alleged booster, and his ex-wife Kim Roslovic, also an Ohio State grad, for whom Salyers provided babysitting services and with whom Savovic originally lived upon moving to Columbus the summer before his freshman year. It was in depositions for this lawsuit that Salyers claimed knowledge of a $6,000 payment by O'Brien to former Buckeyes recruit Aleksandar Radojevic. The money was purportedly to help Radojevic's family in Yugoslavia, a story O'Brien admitted to Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger and which resulted in his firing.
Salyers claims the Roslovics reneged on a verbal agreement, allegedly orchestrated by then Ohio State assistant coach Paul Biancardi, to pay her $1,000 a month plus reimburse expenses if she would provide for Savovic during his time at Ohio State. In depositions, Salyers describes how over a four-year period she became a surrogate mother to Savovic, giving him food, shelter, clothing, transportation, spending money and other expenses. Though Savovic had a dorm room and later an apartment, he spent a lot of his free time at the Salyers' home, according to Salyers' deposition. Photographs viewed by SI.com show Savovic hanging out in Salyers' kitchen with teammates, celebrating Christmas with the family and escorting Salyers' daughter, Amanda, to her high school prom.
"She treated [Savovic] like another child," Salyers' mother, Elizabeth Lambert, told SI.com. "We just fell in love with him."
According to Salyers' depositions, her responsibilities for Savovic also included writing his school papers (a note written by Amanda, submitted as evidence in the case, claims her mother would write the papers and she would type them) and ensuring that two Ohio State professors changed Savovic's grades so he would remain eligible. (Kim also testified that she wrote papers for Savovic while at Ohio State.)
In their response to Salyers' lawsuit, both Kim and Dan Roslovic denied the existence of any agreement with Salyers and Dan has filed a counter claim against Salyers alleging defamation of character. On Wednesday, Dan Roslovic's attorneys issued the following statement: "The allegations contained in the spurious lawsuit filed by Dan Roslovic's former babysitter (Kathy Salyers) will be shown to be false and completely fabricated. Dan never had any agreement with her to pay her any money and he looks forward to demonstrating those facts as the court case progresses."
According to Dan's testimony, which SI.com obtained, "There was never an agreement, oral or written." He went on to testify that he spoke to coach O'Brien a year ago regarding the lawsuit. He said, "I recall him [O'Brien] saying, 'Am I missing something here? Did you and Paul [Biancardi] have some type of agreement with Kathy Salyers?' And I told him no."
Messages left with Kim Roslovic as well as her attorneys seeking comment for this story were not returned. However, in Kim's deposition, which SI.com obtained, she denied there was any agreement with Salyers for payment in exchange for taking care of Savovic. Kim testified that she suggested that Savovic move in with Salyers but assumed it would be only for the summer.
At least one witness, neighbor Karen Lidbrauch, claimed in her deposition to have overheard a conversation on a speaker phone while in Salyers' home in which Dan Roslovic proposed terms of the alleged agreement. Salyers claims Roslovic said he was calling from the office of Biancardi, who is now the head coach at Wright State in Dayton, Ohio.
Biancardi, who is on vacation in Florida, issued a statement Wednesday through Wright State regarding Salyers' claim: "I am disappointed and frustrated over the situation that has evolved from a lawsuit in which I am not a party and have had no involvement. Statements, having no basis in truth, have been used to make decisions affecting the lives of dedicated individuals. These statements are not supported by facts and are uncorroborated."
Salyers claims in her deposition that she was told by Biancardi that if anyone asked how she knew Savovic she should say it was from his having played basketball with her then 20-year-old son, Rob Huston. This version of events made it into at least two media accounts portraying Savovic and Salyers' relationship, but Salyers says in her deposition that it was a lie.
Savovic had been introduced to the Roslovics by a member of the local Serbian church, said a source, and moved in with them sometime early in the summer of 1998 but left approximately two months later to live with Salyers.
"We told him and the basketball staff he couldn't live [with the Roslovics] because Dan was a booster," Geiger told SI.com. "Boban paid for the time he lived there."
Around the same time Savovic, who was 18, left the Roslovic's home, he had a sexual relationship with Kim Roslovic, according to Saylers' testimony and admitted by Kim in her deposition.
"I came downstairs and saw them on the couch kissing," testified Dan, who claims he did not know the relationship between Savovic and Kim had advanced beyond kissing until Kim told him so last fall. The Roslovics separated in the fall of 1998 and divorced nearly two years later.
According to Salyers' testimony, Kim made audiotapes for Savovic to listen to while he was living with Salyers. Salyers claims to possess one of those tapes.
According to Kim's deposition, the tapes may have prompted Salyers to file the claim. "I believe that Kathy lived beyond her means, and I think she anticipated both Boban and [Aleksandar Radojevic] to repay her. When they abandoned her, she realized she had the tapes. She concocted the story thinking she would extort money from Dan and I."
Salyers is seeking actual damages of $359,910.53 and punitive damages "in excess of" $300,000. Salyers admits in her deposition that there is no written agreement between her and the Roslovics, and that she has very few receipts documenting her alleged expenses.
During Savovic's four-year career at Ohio State, Salyers claims she incurred many expenses on his behalf, including school supplies; meals; costs associated with his registering for classes; a cell phone; a suit for him to wear to the OSU basketball banquet; car insurance; long-distance phone calls to Yugoslavia; trips to and from Hawaii, where Savovic's brother Predrag played, as well as New York; and $200 weekly spending money.
If true, such expenses violate the NCAA's rules regarding "extra benefits" for student athletes and would mean Savovic was technically ineligible at the time. In her deposition, Salyers claims that Biancardi asked her to make various payments on behalf of Savovic.
"Host families for NCAA athletes are not permitted by the NCAA [to do more than] make signs and attend games to support them," said NCAA spokesperson Kay Hawes. "You can't have a host who adopts a foreign athlete and houses them or provides them with meals."
When asked what was the school's understanding of Savovic's and Salyers' relationship at the time Savovic was in school, Geiger said he was led to believe that Savovic was a friend of Salyers' son from a summer basketball league.
If it is proved that Ohio State coaches were aware of the arrangement, the infractions would likely rise to the level of a major violation, the sanctions of which include probation, forfeiture of games and postseason bans.
"He [Biancardi] called and told me when taxes were due," testified Salyers. "When Boban was flunking a class, [he told me] to go talk to the professor, have his grade changed. ... There were many, many calls from Paul Biancardi requesting that I pay something for Boban. He knew that [the Roslovics] were supposed to give me money. He was absolutely shocked the day I told him that Dan had not given me any money."
To avoid a paper trail, Salyers has said that she or Savovic would go to a Meijer gas station each week to fill up her car and write a check for far more than the amount owed to get cash back. Two employees of the gas station -- one current, one former -- confirm the story. "She'd call ahead and see if she could write a check for over," said Yvonne Beavers, the ex-employee. "We'd let her. It was usually for a couple hundred dollars over."
All the while, Salyers says in her deposition, she believed she was going to be reimbursed by the Roslovics. She was a close friend of Kim's, still babysitting the latter's three young children over that span. Salyers and Kim traveled to Miami to attend one of Savovic's games. "I promised Kim to take him in and treat him as one of my own children. ... She begged me for that promise," testified Salyers. "She stood in her kitchen and she looked at me with tears in her eyes hysterical, begging me to take Boban and begging me to give him a home because he had been ripped away from so many homes."
Meanwhile, Salyers alleges she was sinking further into debt. Her mother, increasingly worried about her daughter's financial state, told SI.com she called Kim and asked if she intended to pay Salyers back.
"She said if [Salyers] told you that in the last month or two, it's not true," said Lambert. "She said something to the effect of, 'Before that, I was going to.' It was like she changed her mind."
Before coming to Columbus, Savovic played his senior year of high school at East Side High School in Newark, N.J. According to a 1998 New York Daily News story, he lived with his "uncle," Spomenko (Semi) Pajovic. A 2001 Dayton Daily News report alleged that Pajovic was a de facto agent who helped place numerous Serbian players at American colleges and high schools, among them Savovic and his brother, Predrag, who played at UAB and Hawaii. The story also revealed that Pajovic had an informal working relationship with NBA agent Marc Cornstein.
It is a violation of NCAA rules for an agent to have contact with a student-athlete while he still has eligibility remaining. According to Salyers' testimony, Pajovic and Cornstein made numerous visits to Ohio State games during Savovic's career. "Mark and Semi would come to town, perhaps to catch a game ... and they wanted to get a hold of Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd," said Salyers in her deposition. "I witnessed them coming out of the locker room after the game."
Cornstein could not be reached for comment. The Web site for his company, Pinnacle Hoops, lists Savovic and his brother as clients, as well as former Ohio State players Penn, Slobodan Ocokoljic and Velimir Radinovic.
SI.com was unable to locate Savovic for comment. He was last known to be playing for a French basketball league team in March of 2004.
According to Salyers' testimony, she became acquainted, through Boban Savovic, with Predrag Savovic, Ocokoljic and Radinovic as well as Radojevic, a childhood friend of Boban Savovic who signed with the Buckeyes in November 1998. Saylers claims she paid for trips to and from Hawaii for Boban and Predrag. (Kim Roslovic admitted in her deposition that she helped pay for the trips.) Photographs viewed by SI.com show Ocokolijic and Radiniovic hanging out in Salyers' home.
Saylers claims she became particularly close with Radojevic, who she was introduced to a year before his expected arrival at Ohio State, when he had just completed his first of two seasons at Barton County Community College in Kansas.
Salyers said in her testimony that when Radojevic was a recruit "Jim O'Brien gave him $6,700 or $6,800 [while in Kansas]. And the way I came to know this was Alex gave me the money to return to the coach. ... [O'Brien] actually gave it to Alex to send to his parents."
Radojevic never played for the Buckeyes because the NCAA ruled him ineligible in May 1999 for having played several pro games in Yugoslavia. He declared for the 1999 NBA draft and was selected 12th by the Toronto Raptors. In her deposition, Salyers talks about attending the draft with Radojevic.
"After Alex made it to the NBA, Paul Biancardi called Alex and said, 'Hey, since you're doing okay, Jim O'Brien wants his money back,'" claims Salyers in her deposition. Salyers says no one from Ohio State came to get the money so she used it toward her house payment.
Salyers claims to have sent a letter to O'Brien before filing the lawsuit seeking his help in mediating her dispute with the Roslovics. In questioning, one of the defendants' attorneys asked Salyers about an alleged letter in which "your attorney offered to sell the book and movie rights to Jim O'Brien or to an entity controlled by O'Brien."
The scheduled trial date for Salyers' lawsuit is Aug. 18, but it is expected to be pushed back. Ohio State self-reported O'Brien's admitted payment to Radojevic last month, and the NCAA said Tuesday it is investigating O'Brien and the Buckeyes basketball program. NCAA investigators have scheduled a meeting with Salyers for later this month and are lining up interviews with other persons mentioned in the lawsuit.