Let's see now. The governor is on trial for racketeering. The former state commissioner of agriculture is in a federal penitentiary for racketeering and extortion. The superintendent of education has been indicted for public payroll fraud. The district attorney is investigating financial improprieties in the Baton Rouge Department of Public Works. There is a basketball fix scandal at Tulane. That just about covers the waterfront in Louisiana. Or does it? When your leading citizen, Governor Edwin Edwards, once said the only thing that could hurt him was being caught "in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy," you figure the place has a high threshold for embarrassment. Or does it?
Louisiana politics and Louisiana State University sports have made strange bayoufellows ever since Huey Long was recruiting players and hiring and firing coaches from the governor's mansion more than half a century ago.
But even Louisiana's most jambalayan-jaded residents were shocked last week when the debris from two recent explosions in LSU's athletic department floated every which way before rolling down diverse trails seemingly headed straight for one another. On one path, LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead was appearing before a federal grand jury, which was trying to figure out why electronic eavesdropping equipment was found in his office, BRODHEAD BUGS ME bumper stickers and BUGS BRODHEAD T shirts with a likeness of the A.D. munching a carrot were at the printers in the wink of an eye. On the other path, Tito Horford, the 7'1" freshman who, LSU basketball coach Dale Brown says, could be "the most dominating center in college in one year," was walking...or riding...or otherwise vanishing into the extremely thin air of an ongoing NCAA preliminary investigation into both LSU's football and basketball programs. Brown screamed of "tampering" by other schools. But Horford had taken leave of, chronologically, his native Dominican Republic, the University of Houston and LSU as well as all logic, and had left only trouble in his wake.
Horford was the second superstar in a row that Brown has brought in from afar under strange circumstances, the first being 6'8" sophomore John Williams from Crenshaw High in Los Angeles (box, page 26). The recruiting of Williams is believed to be of interest to the NCAA and so is the wooing of Horford, who signed with Houston, then was declared ineligible to play for that school when it was revealed by SI (July 22, 1985) that the Cougars had improperly recruited him. Brown then welcomed him to LSU. "I don't regret giving him a second chance," says Brown. "Beyond the fact of my brotherhood, he was seven feet."
It was hardly surprising to find Brown (page 28) smack at the nexus of the controversy. For two weeks, Baton Rouge has been full of threats, confusion, recriminations, affidavits, headlines—SWAP BRODHEAD FOR SOVIET SAILOR; TITO WASN'T TYPICAL COLLEGE ROOMMATE—and the extended other chaos that makes college athletics such an endearingly wholesome paradise. "I didn't even have to buy a ticket to get into this circus," Brown said. He apparently didn't miss a single act either—except to put off his requested appearance last week before the grand jury investigating the Brodhead case.
Wait a minute. Wouldn't dabbling Dale be too busy plugging his team's hole in the middle to get involved with unplugging recorders and patch cords?
Well, it's complicated, but as U.S. Attorney Stanford O. Bardwell said, "I am informed that he [Brown] has been pretty close to the whole situation. He would have been in a position to have accurate information. It's interesting...maybe he wants that job [the athletic directorship] and wants to get rid of Brodhead.... I didn't say that.... That's not my opinion.... That's strictly street talk."
The talk began because of what happened across the street from the LSU Assembly Center the night of Oct. 26, just after the LSU basketball team returned from an intrasquad game, interestingly enough, at the state penitentiary at Angola. Horford had 14 points and four rebounds. Some players sought refuge from the pouring rain, a harbinger of Hurricane Juan, by rushing to a concert at the Assembly Center, where the rock star Sting was playing. After Sting was finished, at about 11 o'clock, immediately across the way another sting was starting. It was then that the FBI observed Brodhead and a 300-pound man with a squeaky voice identified by SI's sources as George Arthur Davis, an FBI informant, entering the LSU athletic offices. Once inside, according to an FBI affidavit, they discussed what Brodhead allegedly wanted to accomplish, namely, the installation of equipment with the intent "of intercepting oral communication within his office to which he was not a party"—a federal violation for which the maximum penalties are a $10,000 fine, five years in prison, or both. The following day a federal search warrant was issued, and the equipment—transmitters, voice-activated tape recorder, a patch cord, your basic tools from the G. Gordon Liddy library—was confiscated. Ed Pistey, the agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office, which has jurisdiction in the case, said, "The results that have been achieved can be described as positive."
Brodhead's explanation was that he was concerned about "information leaks" emanating from his $10 million department and that by telling "different but sensational" stories to the suspected but unspecified leakers, he would set a trap and nab the culprits when those stories appeared in the media. However, there was widespread speculation that the real target of the bugging scheme was that hoary, primeval outfit, the NCAA. Although Brodhead denied that the NCAA was his target, the fact remained that the dates for his planned bugging operation, as given on the affidavit, were just before the dates on which NCAA investigator Doug Johnson was scheduled to use Brodhead's office to conduct interviews with LSU athletes.
"I don't know what to believe, but if the [planned] bugging is because of the NCAA thing, it stinks even worse," said Charles Cusimano, a New Orleans oilman who sits on the LSU Board of Supervisors. "O.K., so Brodhead's trying to catch the NCAA looking into our 'cheating.' You telling me this guy condones cheating? What kind of A.D. is this?...This is an unquestionable embarrassment to [this] university. It's like a bad dream.... What is there to hide? What in the hell is so secret in this...A.D.'s office that he has to [try to] snoop and...eavesdrop? Paranoia? That's a cop-out. This is not a logical conclusion tome."