To address these concerns, Linda and Tom say, Bozeman flew to Los Angeles in the summer of 1995, before Jelani's sophomore season got under way. While dining with the Gardners at the Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant in Marina del Rey, he was unaware that Linda had a voice-activated tape recorder concealed in her purse. After dinner the Gardners drove Bozeman back to the airport. While Tom and Bozeman conversed in the front seat, Linda sat in the back with her tape recorder still running. The Gardners' Jeep Cherokee was double-parked curbside at the United terminal as Tom pressed for the full sum he says he had been promised. "The information on the tape is a slam dunk," Tom says.
While they sat in the Cherokee, says Tom, "[Bozeman] said, 'If that's what you want'—meaning the money—'then I'll show you what $15,000 is really about. It will be about just $15,000.' " The Gardners took this as a threat—that if they became too belligerent in their demands, Bozeman could, as Tom says, "mess up Jelani's career," because he controlled Jelani's playing time. Tom says he and Linda made the tape because Bozeman hadn't kept his word about the money, and in the ensuing season Jelani did find his playing time scaled back slightly.
"We kept Jelani out of this whole deal," Tom says. "The bottom line is, I was wrong. I jeopardized my son's future by taking money to begin with. But [Bozeman] was wrong, too. He got us the money. I'm admitting my mistake, and J's moving on. I hope [Bozeman] admits his mistake, too."
In an interview with SI last Thursday, Bozeman denied all of Tom Gardner's allegations. While he acknowledged that the Gardners mentioned that they had been getting improper payments, he says he didn't take them seriously because he had found Tom Gardner to be untruthful with him before. "We've developed the Tom Gardner truth test," says Jim Cobb, Bozeman's attorney. "How can you tell when Tom Gardner's lying? When his lips are moving." Because the Gardners taped Bozeman in violation of California law, which requires the consent of all parties for a conversation to be recorded, Cobb says he will initiate a civil action on Bozeman's behalf against the Gardners and perhaps against the NCAA.
All parties investigating the case—Cal, the Pac-10 Conference and the NCAA—confirm the existence of the tape and the substance of the conversations recorded on it. And a source close to the probe, who has heard the tape and read a transcript of its contents, says that, during the conversation, "Todd didn't deny [the payments] or his knowledge of them. The thing that we're pushing more on—because the tape makes this very clear—is that he had knowledge or should have had knowledge about very major NCAA rules violations, and it's his ethical duty to report that. He did not."
To date, no one has been able to answer the big question: Where did the money come from? "Nobody knows," says Cal athletic director John Kasser, who replaced Bockrath in January 1994. But it does bring us to the two other principals who were aware of the "traveling money."
One is James Casey, who was a registered players agent until 1992, representing NBA center Benoit Benjamin before leaving the business to become a freelance "runner," a denizen of that demimonde of middlemen who initiate contacts with prospective clients and deliver them to agents. He is also married to Linda Gardner's first cousin.
Casey has had several ignominious brushes with college sports. In 1992 he hooked up with an L.A. business manager named Ray Fisher, who wanted Casey to recruit athletes for his stable of clients. Fisher claims to have given more than $36,000 to Casey, former Arizona star Chris Mills and Mills's father, Claud. Fisher thought that sum would be a down payment on Chris's becoming a Fisher client, but Casey never delivered. Fisher sued Claud and Chris to recoup his "investment," and the case was settled out of court with a confidentiality clause.
Since then, Cal has had its own episode with Casey, who in March 1995 squired Fowlkes to a Long Beach car dealership and gave him $1,800 to help pay for a Chevy Blazer. As a result, the NCAA ordered Fowlkes to sit out 14 games last season. He returned for the final 14 games and has since left for Fresno State.
Tom Gardner says that he used Casey only as a front man to field offers from schools willing to pay for his son's services. The party who actually delivered the cash was former Indiana star Butch Carter, who was then a Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach. Tom says Carter approached the family while Jelani was in high school, saying he was representing Bozeman. He then sent payments by overnight mail.