Not since three UNLV players were seen hot-tubbing with Richard (the Fixer) Perry in 1991 has a college basketball program been compared to the mob. But that was the parallel drawn last week by a federal official involved in a criminal probe of academic fraud at Minnesota (SI, June 14, 1999). As the official told SI, "The complexity of the wrongdoing is something most often seen in organized crime."
Coming five months into the government's probe, that comment doesn't bode well for the Gophers, already buried by self-imposed sanctions stemming from a scandal that began in March 1999 when tutor Jan Gangelhoff admitted she had done assignments for at least 20 players. FBI and postal agents have seized coursework from the university's office of Independent and Distance Learning and, SI sources say, are investigating alleged cheating that extends as far back as '86, the year former coach Clem Haskins arrived.
Next month the NCAA is scheduled to hand down a report—and perhaps further sanctions—based on the school's internal inquiry, which focused primarily on Gangelhoff. Federal investigators, however, are digging deeper and, according to an SI source, targeting Haskins. Authorities are building a case against him that could lead to felony charges of mail fraud and possibly wire fraud and misappropriating federal Pell Grant funds. Gangelhoff promised her cooperation last week when she agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of misappropriating federal funds by preparing and submitting coursework for a former player, reportedly guard Bobby Jackson, who has denied any wrongdoing. Haskins's attorney, Ron Meshbesher, said that if his client is indicted, "we will fight the charges ferociously."
Haskins moved to his farm in Kentucky shortly after the school bought out his contract for $1.5 million in June 1999. But on Sept. 11, Minnesota sued Haskins to get back some of that money. (Meshbesher says the school has no grounds for the suit.) Now facing the prospect of a public trial, the once-beloved Haskins, like those UNLV players, appears to be in serious hot water.