Pete Rose's fall from grace became even more dramatic last week, when the former baseball hero pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to two felony counts of filing false income tax returns. Rose, who faces a maximum penalty of six years in jail and $500,000 in fines, was fingerprinted and given a criminal ID number, and had his mug shot taken. "He is so, so scared about going to prison," a friend of Rose's told SI's Jill Lieber. "And Pete Rose never gets scared of anything."
Rose, who will be sentenced by Judge Arthur Spiegel sometime this summer, has reason to be fearful. Under federal sentencing guidelines established in 1987, Rose appears to be in line for a mandatory sentence of between eight and 14 months, at least half of which must be served in jail. Spiegel has a reputation for being hard on white-collar criminals.
Rose, who was permanently banned from baseball last August for his gambling activities and unsavory associations, admitted that between 1984 and 1987 he failed to report $354,968 in income from autograph sessions, memorabilia sales and gambling. In a written statement, Rose explained that he had sold prized memorabilia and appeared at lucrative autograph sessions to raise gambling money; he said he didn't tell his advisers about the income because "I didn't want anybody I cared about to know how much I was gambling."
To avoid tipping off the IRS to his memorabilia and autograph-show income, Rose took payments in cash or in checks written to fictitious payees or in small amounts. Among the unreported income was $129,000 from collector Steve Wolter for the bat Rose used to break Ty Cobb's career-hit record in 1985. Investigators found that Rose, who claimed last year that he had never even made exotic racetrack bets, had in fact earned $136,945 as his share of 10 winning Pik Six wagers between 1984 and '87—a mind-boggling number of winning tickets, considering the odds against winning a Pik Six. Despite these earnings and the huge sums he now admits having wagered through illegal bookies during that span, Rose reported no gambling income or losses on any of his returns from '84 through '87.
Why did Rose plead guilty instead of going to trial? Because the government had him nailed, and he didn't want to incur additional public humiliation and legal fees. Early last week Rose paid a total of $366,043 in back taxes, interest and penalties, but he still faces the possible half million dollars in fines.
Rose is said by friends to be showing the strain. He seemed unusually subdued during his appearance before Spiegel; when the judge asked if he was under the influence of any drugs or medication, Rose said he was taking Zantac for a "stomach disorder." Zantac is commonly used to treat ulcers.
After his court appearance, Rose flew to Tampa under an assumed name to avoid further publicity. When asked what he thought about the prospect of Rose going to jail, his former bookie Ron Peters, now serving 24 months in a federal prison camp in Terre Haute, Ind., for drug trafficking and tax evasion, replied, "We're having varsity soft-ball tryouts right now, and we can always use another good player. I'll reserve jersey number 14 for Pete."
SORRY, NO RELATION
Beset by scandals in its football and basketball programs, the University of Florida has been trying to shed its win-at-all-costs image. Ironically, its new president, a specialist in Latin American history, is named John Vincent Lombardi.