When Chris Webber emerged from a federal courthouse in Detroit in August 2000, he was smiling, satisfied that 45 minutes of testimony before a grand jury investigating former Michigan booster Ed Martin would end his involvement with the case. "I knew I was not the one on the hot seat," Webber said at the time. Two years later, though, Webber is definitely feeling the heat.
Last week the Justice Department indicted the 29-year-old Kings star on charges of lying to that grand jury, about $280,000 in cash and gifts he allegedly received from Martin, and conspiring to obstruct justice. Each offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The way Webber got himself into this trouble baffles many. (The indictment, says Martin's lawyer, William Mitchell III, is "based mostly on Chris Webber's stupidity.") Webber was not an initial target in the probe, which centered on Martin's running an illegal lottery at Michigan auto plants. Webber could have avoided the controversy in the manner of Louis Bullock and Robert Traylor, former Wolverines who testified before the grand jury and got on with their careers. Specifically, Webber could have taken the Fifth Amendment and rested comfortably knowing that he was a peripheral figure in a case that has led to a plea bargain for Martin, who will be sentenced on Oct. 8.
Instead, Webber was combative and not forthcoming to the grand jury—and overly talkative with the press, saying that he got only pocket change from Martin and that the government was using "crazy numbers." Also, the fact that the Feds had a detailed case against Martin that contradicted Webber angered prosecutors enough to seek indictments. Says one of Webber's lawyers, L. Fallasha Erwin, "We think it got personal."
Webber, who pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last week, has vowed to keep fighting. "When is this going to end?" Michigan athletic director Bill Martin asked last week. It's a good question: The case is into its seventh year. But it may be Webber himself who is keeping it going.