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Seminole Shame
Douglas S. Looney
June 06, 1994
Arrests and charges of illicit loans and phony jobs rock Florida State anew
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June 06, 1994

Seminole Shame

Arrests and charges of illicit loans and phony jobs rock Florida State anew

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As embarrassment piles on embarrassment for Florida State's national-championship football team, Seminole coach Bobby Bowden remains largely up-beat. Yes, the scandal surrounding Bowden's program has cast a lengthening shadow over last season's title. Yes, the university has hired an outside law firm to investigate possible violations and report any that are found to the NCAA. Yes, Bowden is chagrined by the revelations so far. Nevertheless, speaking to a reporter the other day, Bowden implied that the misdeeds of his players were a series of random acts over which administrators and coaches had no control. "We'll discipline those who have violated the rules, then we'll go on right about our business of defending our national championship," Bowden said. "The good thing is, Florida State University has nothing to do with this."

But with each passing day it's getting harder for Bowden and other Seminole officials to distance themselves from a mess that has reached staggering proportions. In the wake of a May 16 SI story detailing gifts of cash and merchandise that agents lavished on seven Seminole players during the 1993 season, including apparel purchased in a $6,000 shopping spree at the Foot Locker store in Tallahassee's Governor's Square Mall on Nov. 7, the Seminole program was sent reeling by a succession of other disturbing developments. These include a plea of no contest to a criminal charge by one Florida State athlete, allegations that two others committed sexual offenses and news reports of activities by individuals connected to Seminole athletic programs that pointed to violations of NCAA rules.

On top of all that, SI has uncovered evidence of still other wrongdoing involving Florida Stale athletes:

•Dianna Cortes, a former employee of the Mandarin Veterinary Clinic near Jacksonville told SI that at least two former Florida State stars who are now playing in the NFL, Green Bay Packer safety LeRoy Butler and Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver Lawrence Dawsey, received money for no-show summer jobs at the clinic while they were playing for the Seminoles. Cortes says the money was paid by Rick Blankenship, a Seminole booster—he is listed in Florida State game programs as a Golden Chief—who owns the clinic where his wife, Kandra Jones, is the director of veterinary medicine. Cortes, who was a technician at the clinic from mid-1989 until last December, says that at Blankenship's direction she took envelopes that she understood contained paychecks to Butler and Dawsey at a guest house at Blankenship's home, where each player stayed for a summer while they attended Florida State in the late '80s and early '90s. Cortes adds that running back Edgar Bennett, who is also with the Packers, stayed at the guest house too. Cortes says that Dawsey told her the envelopes contained "my money, my check," and that "I asked Lawrence, 'What [job] did you do?" He said, 'Don't worry about it.' "

Cortes also says she asked Blankenship, " 'Rick, you're giving players checks and gifts, and they don't even work there—isn't that illegal?' And he said to me, 'Don't say anything, because if you do, I guarantee you won't get a job here in Jacksonville ever again.' "

College athletes may accept summer employment but are prohibited from receiving special benefits—excessive pay, free housing and the like. In an interview with SI, Blankenship at first said that in recent years he had given "four or five" Seminole players summer jobs at the clinic, where they "did what everyone else did." But Cortes and six other former employees—Kim Haddad, Steve Lichtfuss, Cindy Milliken and three others who would not allow their names to be used—whose employment at the clinic spanned a period from 1987 to early this year, said they were certain that no Seminole football player showed up for work at the clinic. Told that his former employees had contradicted him, Blankenship changed his story and said that the players had not worked at the clinic but had performed unspecified jobs at other properties he owns.

Dawsey and Bennett did not return phone calls. Butler did speak to SI and said he had never worked for Blankenship in any capacity. Indeed, the only Seminole that any of SI's seven sources remember as having done work for Blankenship was former offensive tackle Marvin Ferrell, who has admitted receiving free clothes in the Foot Locker expedition. Lichtfuss says that both Blankenship and Jones told him that Ferrell was paid $100 for washing Blankenship's Jeep, a payment that, because it appears to have been overly generous, would also be a likely NCAA violation. Lichtfuss says of the payment to Ferrell, "I remember thinking we [clinic employees] wouldn't mind washing his Jeep." Ferrell did not return calls either.

•Doug Andreaus, a Florida State graduate who became a sports agent last June when he landed Tamarick Vanover, a star sophomore wide receiver on last year's Seminole team, as a client—his only one, as it turned out—told SI that last summer he helped arrange $23,000 in loans to Vanover's mother, Katherine Pondexter. Andreaus says he obtained the money from a group of Tallahassee residents and that he subsequently gave various sums of his own money to a friend of Vanover's, Clay Dickey, and lent Dickey $1,500.

Andreaus was interning for Golden Bear International, Jack Nicklaus's management company in West Palm Beach. Fla., when he approached Vanover, but he says he went off on his own after Vanover agreed to be his client. Andreaus says he arranged the loan to Pondexter after Dickey told him, "Tamarick's mother needs money. She's $12,000 in debt, she doesn't have money to buy her other kids clothes, so they can't go to school, she can't buy food, and she needs to move to a better apartment because rats crawl over her while she's trying to sleep. This makes her so tired she can't work." Andreaus says that Vanover voiced a similar appeal to him at Florida State's athletic dorm, Burt Reynolds Hall, crying as he told of his mother's supposed plight.

But Andreaus says that a week after the first of the loans to Pondexter he heard that Vanover was driving a black, late-model Volkswagen. He also saw Vanover's brother, Frank, wearing an expensive designer shirt. Andreaus says that after he confronted Tamarick about these displays of affluence, the player said that his mother had given him money and that she would be "coming over in a few minutes to give me some more money."

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