"Norm loves the renegade image," said a friend of the suspended Lobo coach last week. "And I'll tell you the fans love it, too. Or they don't care. As long as Norm gives them a winner, they don't care how the players act."
The current New Mexico roster lists eight juco transfers among its 11 eligible players. An obvious advantage of recruiting junior college players is that they already have two years of post-high school experience. A disadvantage is that they've had two years to become spoiled stars. But it's easier to admit a juco transfer and make him eligible than it is to admit a freshman. According to the NCAA's eligibility rules, a freshman must have a 2.0 grade-point average from high school. That is as difficult for some as being asked to play defense. Juco transfers are eligible if, after two years, they've completed 48 hours of transferable work with a 2.0 average, or if they've earned an associate of arts (A.A.) degree from a junior college. "At some of these junior colleges it doesn't take a whole lot to complete 48 hours of 2.0 work," says New Mexico Dean of Admissions Robert M. Weaver. And once a juco transfer gets in, he has little trouble maintaining his 2.0, what with courses like Fundamentals of Football and Fundamentals of Basketball, two that are available to UNM athletes as well as other students. Very few basketball players lose their eligibility during a season, even though, according to Ike Singer Jr., New Mexico's associate athletic director in charge of monitoring the players' academic standing, the graduation rate for basketball players is "around 25%."
Recruiting these players is a high-pressure business for a school like New Mexico, whose basketball program earned more than $1 million last year, enough to cover most of the losses incurred by the university's other teams. Attendance at "The Pit," as the Lobos' arena is called, averaged 16,641 last year, 97% of capacity. Every game is sold out for this season, and more than 3,000 season-ticket orders went unfilled. In addition, 822 reserved standing-room spots are usually sold for each game, this despite the fact that every game, home and away, is televised in Albuquerque.
Norm Ellenberger obviously liked Manny Goldstein's results, if not his style. Goldstein is paunchy and balding, and he speaks in the brisk Brooklyn used-car-salesmanese that some outlanders expect from New Yorkers. Goldstein knows the New York ball yards, and high school and juco coaches everywhere. He played at the University of Corpus Christi in Texas and recruited and coached for a year and a half at Pan American. He also worked for Coach Beryl Shipley at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, where the basketball program was all but shut down when the NCAA cited it for more than 100 rules violations in 1973. Goldstein denies having had any part in that fiasco, and when former New Mexico Athletic Director Lavon McDonald checked Goldstein out with the NCAA before he was hired, McDonald was told there would be no problem. Still, Manny Goldstein has that big reputation for being a high-pressure recruiter.
According to New Mexico law-enforcement officials, the revelation of the forged transcript was something of a fluke. Last spring the New Mexico Strike Force, a team of lawyers and investigators that focuses on certain aspects of organized crime, initiated an investigation into gambling operations in the Albuquerque area and possible links to organized-crime figures. Because one of the suspected operations involved the use of a federal government computer, the FBI participated in the investigation. In September, New Mexico Judge Jack Love ordered several wiretaps on suspected gamblers. One of the taps was on the phone of Lee Farris, a retired gynecologist who is alleged to be a close friend of both Goldstein and Ellenberger and reportedly has been seen visiting Ellenberger in the New Mexico basketball locker room.
On Nov. 19, officers of the Albuquerque Police Department and representatives of the State Attorney General's office raided 13 homes and businesses. Among the items seized in the various raids were betting slips, sports-line sheets, computer printouts, telephone voice scramblers, phone lists with coded names, a slot machine, $8,500 in cash, telephone bills and safe-deposit keys. When Albuquerque police and representatives of the Attorney General's office interviewed players, coaches and university officials last Wednesday, most of the questions pertained to gambling.
While the gambling investigation was going on, the FBI was working on another angle, one it had been alerted to on Nov. 17 when Albuquerque police officer Larry Bullard overheard a conversation on Farris' tapped line purportedly between Ellenberger and Goldstein. (APD detective Pat O'Hearn confirmed the voice identifications.) In the conversation, Goldstein told Ellenberger that he had forged a transcript for Gilbert from Mercer County Community College in Trenton, N.J. Goldstein also told Ellenberger that he had arranged through Robert Maruca, the athletic trainer at Oxnard College, to pay $300 to Dr. John Woolley, dean of admissions at Oxnard. Woolley would then apply the bogus credits to Gilbert's transcript from Oxnard.
FBI agents in Los Angeles said that Woolley suggested "laundering" the transcript, that credits could be applied to Gilbert's record if they came from another college, as long as the transcript appeared to be genuine. Maruca allegedly told Woolley that the reason Mercer County Community College would be used was that Goldstein said he had a college seal from Mercer. Last Sunday, Woolley said he had never heard of Goldstein "until the FBI agent mentioned his name." He also said, "I've done nothing illegal." As for Maruca, he said, "We did not use good judgment."
According to Ike Singer, who has worked in New Mexico's Athletic Department since 1956, UNM had two transcripts from Craig Gilbert, one from Santa Barbara ( Calif.) City Junior College, which Gilbert attended in 1977-78, the other from Oxnard, which he attended in 1978-79. Gilbert's grade-point average was better than 2.0, but he was still some eight hours short of the 48 hours needed to make him eligible. "My understanding from Manny Goldstein was that Gilbert was going to summer school at Oxnard and that the transcript showing the completed eight hours would arrive anytime," says Singer. The extra eight hours had no bearing on Gilbert's eligibility for enrollment, only on his eligibility for athletics. In anticipation of athletic eligibility, which Singer believed to be forthcoming, Gilbert was already enrolled on full scholarship. "I periodically asked Manny Goldstein for the summer transcript," says Singer, "and he kept telling me, 'Oh, it's coming.' One time he said that the boy owed some money out there, and they would not release the transcript until it was settled. And that was the last I heard about it until this all blew up. I guess I was naive. I probably shouldn't have been after all these years, but...."
Goldstein thought he had the problem licked, according to the verbatim transcript of the Nov. 17 conversation with Ellenberger: