Ellis claims that two players whose eligibility expired at the close of the 2010 season—safety Jermale Hines and cornerback Devon Torrence—also conducted at least one transaction with Rife involving memorabilia or autographs before the season ended. When asked by SI to respond, Hines, who was picked by the Rams in the fifth round of April's NFL draft, said, "I did nothing illegal." Torrence's agent, Jim Ivler, said his client "is adamant that the allegations are false.... He can tell you where he got all his tattoos and it was not [at Fine Line Ink]."
From the 2008 team, Ellis alleges that cornerback Donald Washington traded memorabilia for tattoos. Washington now plays for the Chiefs; his agent, Neil Cornrich, did not return SI's calls requesting comment.
Among those whose Ohio State careers ended after the 2009 season, Rose, Small, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson, running back Jermil Martin, wide receiver Lamaar Thomas and defensive lineman Doug Worthington made trades or sold memorabilia before their eligibility expired, according to Ellis. Gibson, now with the 49ers, and Worthington, now with the Buccaneers, declined comment through their agent. Repeated attempts to locate Martin, including calls, Internet searches and Facebook messages to past friends and coaches, were unsuccessful. Thomas, who now plays for the University of New Mexico, said in a statement from that school's athletic office, "I'm aware of the investigation at Ohio State. I have not been implicated for a reason—because I've done nothing wrong." When asked about Buckeyes selling their players-only merchandise, Small admitted to The Lantern that he had done so and said that "everybody was doing it."
Rose has no regrets. "I knew how much money that the school was making," he says. "I always heard about how Ohio State had the biggest Nike budget. I was struggling, my mom was struggling.... It was just something that I had to do. I was in a hard spot.... [Other] guys were doing it for the same reasons. The university doesn't really help. Technically we knew it was wrong, but a lot of those guys are from the inner city and we didn't have much, and we had to go on the best we could. I couldn't call home to ask my mom to help me out."
Ohio State's conclusion that only six players broke the rules is based in part on a list of the items the Department of Justice seized in raids of Fine Line Ink and Rife's home on May 1, 2010. But that list, which mentioned 42 football-related items that Rife bought, received or acquired in trades from players, covered only a small fraction of what he got from the Buckeyes, Ellis says. "Eddie had storage units all over town," he says, "and he also sold some stuff off to people." (Through Palmer, his lawyer, Rife declined to comment on his involvement with Ohio State players.) Ellis estimates that Pryor alone brought in more than 20 items, including game-worn shoulder pads, multiple helmets, Nike cleats, jerseys, game pants and more. One day Ellis asked Pryor how he was able to take so much gear from the university's equipment room. Ellis says the quarterback responded, "I get whatever I want."
The Department of Justice alerted Ohio State to a transaction in which an unnamed player gave Rife a watch and four tickets to the 2010 Rose Bowl in exchange for a Chevy Tahoe. That player, Ellis says, was Martin: "Jermil came in to the shop and said, 'Are we doing this deal on this truck?' They went outside, and Eddie signed the title over and Jermil shook his hand and off he went." Martin did not give Rife anything at that moment, Ellis says, but a short time later Rife said in a telephone call to Ellis that he was in Pasadena and that Martin had gotten him tickets.
Martin was particularly close to Rife, Ellis says; about a year earlier Rife had given Martin a different car, a 2004 Jaguar sedan. "Eddie tossed him the keys, and off Jermil drove," Ellis says. (Through Palmer, Rife declined to comment.)
Ellis showed SI pictures of players—Pryor, Gibson, Herron and Solomon Thomas—being tattooed or showing off their artwork. Rife appears in one photo with a player. Ellis also produced a photo of 11 plastic bags filled with what appears to be marijuana; he says the photo was taken at Fine Line Ink. The letter the DOJ sent to Ohio State in December stated, "There is no allegation that any of these players were involved in or had knowledge of Mr. Rife's drug trafficking activities." Ellis says that is true but that he did witness four other Buckeyes trade memorabilia for weed. Three of those transactions involved a small amount of the drug, he says, but in one instance a player departed with what Ellis was told was a pound. (Rife's lawyer denies that his client provided marijuana to any players.)
Like Dudley'z years earlier, Fine Line Ink became the players' hangout. They gathered on the second floor, turned on the PlayStation and stayed for hours. Rife may have been about a decade older than most of the players, but, says Ellis, "Eddie was cool. He was funny and fun to be around. The players liked him." Rife regularly accompanied players to bars near campus; he took some to an MMA fight at the LC Pavilion; in May 2009 three players joined Rife at Cruisefest Nationals, an auto show. According to Ellis, Rife set up a mobile tattoo station and then shouted at potential customers, "Come and meet the Buckeyes."
How open a secret was it that scores of Buckeyes were hanging out at Fine Line? Ellis says players went in and out of the tattoo parlor so often that kids carrying paper and pen would bang on the door and front window and shout, "Are the Buckeyes here?" Employees had to shoo them away.