Scrutinizing the Miami scandal

Nevin Shapiro is not Jose Canseco, the steroid user who ratted out baseball.

Shapiro, the Ponzi-schemer who ratted out The U, has more in common with Crystal Mangum than the former major league slugger.

Mangum, if you remember, is the prostitute/stripper who felt disrespected by Duke lacrosse players and concocted a story about rape to exact revenge. A witness corroborated part of Mangum’s story — the racial taunts — and that bit of supporting corroboration, along with racial stereotypes, were enough to make a segment of the media and a prosecutor crucify Duke, lacrosse players and Southern white men.

I never trusted Crystal Mangum. Her story smelled. Given a choice between believing a revenge-minded prostitute or drunken college students, I needed strong evidence to lean toward the hooker.

I feel the same way today about Nevin Shapiro. He’s a natural-born liar. Deceit is his currency. An objective, mature, nuanced examination of Shapiro’s allegations and the framing of Yahoo! Sports reporter Charles Robinson’s story expose Shapiro’s fraudulence and why the Yahoo! story should not be trusted as delivered.

I know that assertion is tough for some of my peers in the media to digest. The rest of this column might be even more difficult for Robinson’s cheerleaders to digest.

But Robinson is in the news. He’s asked us to trust his reporting and his anonymous sources. He needs to be examined as Selena Roberts was when she wrote an irresponsible book about Alex Rodriquez, as I was when I wrote a series of columns questioning black people during the Don Imus-Rutgers basketball controversy.

This column is the price of journalistic fame.

I don’t like or trust Nevin Shapiro and his tactics. To some degree, he used those tactics to hoodwink Yahoo! into swallowing far too much of his story about The U.

The same pictures, receipts and friendships Shapiro used to exact revenge against the Miami players and coaches he felt disrespected by are likely the same or similar to the tools he used to bilk retirees out of millions of dollars.

I’m sure Shapiro’s Ponzi investments looked just as credible as Yahoo!’s “Pulitzer-worthy” story, which Yahoo! is hailing as “one of the biggest scandals in college sports history.”

Generally speaking, Ponzi schemes don’t start out as Ponzi schemes. They’re initially based in truth, a sincere effort to generate profit, and only become fraudulent as the originator gets equally greedy and desperate to deliver the promised returns. The greed and the desperation breed a lack of sophistication that eventually gets the con man busted.

That’s how Charles Robinson’s story reads to me — a journalism Ponzi scheme born in truth (Shapiro committed NCAA violations) and told in the most sensational, unfair and exaggerated way possible to produce a return that justifies 11 months of work.

Mission accomplished.

On the day Robinson’s story ran, Yahoo! columnist Dan Wetzel wrote that Shapiro’s allegations should create “devastating consequences” for Miami football. “Around the Horn” clowns analogized Miami’s violations with SMU’s Pony Expre$$ and clamored for The U to receive the Death Penalty. In Missouri, sportswriters and broadcasters immediately began speculating that Missouri should fire just-hired basketball coach Frank Haith, who, Shapiro alleged, knew of a $10,000 payment to a Miami hoops recruit.

The Yahoo! story was written to generate carnage the same way James O’Keefe’s ACORN video was produced to destroy that organization.

Prostitutes! Abortion!

Shapiro is a poisonous tree. You can’t trust his fruit.

You can’t disguise his poison with stats — 11 months, 100 hours of jailhouse interviews, 21 human sources, including nine former Miami football players, 1,000 pictures, 20,000 financial documents, 5,000 pages of cellphone records, a $1.6 million yacht, $80,000 in receipts at nightclubs, 72 players with possible NCAA violations and nearly 100 interviews.

The stats reveal Robinson’s desperation. For nearly a year, he turned over his life to a congenital liar, and there was no way he was walking away with a simple story: A Miami con man fooled most of Florida, including the Miami athletic department, and took Miami athletes to expensive dinners, popular South Beach nightspots, gave them access to the private parties he threw for himself, friends and professional athletes and steered Vince Wilfork to a sports agency.

That’s a good story. But it doesn’t make you the toast of American sports journalism. It doesn’t make you the most popular man on the talk-show circuit.

Prostitutes, abortion and a head basketball coach expressing gratitude for a $10,000 cash payment to a recruit justify 11 months of work. Prostitutes, abortion and $10,000 provoke the lazy and the clueless to call for the destruction of a football program known for providing refuge, comfort and a platform to black athletes who specialize in making a mockery of sportsmanship and humility.

Check my record. I have never liked The U. The “swagger” has always offended me. I recognized 25 years ago the “swagger” would make The U vulnerable to the kind of unfair attack it is experiencing today.

I’m not a homer for The U. I wasn’t a homer for Duke lacrosse. I don’t like media narratives that rely on the public giving in to its biases.

There are several large holes in the Yahoo!/Shapiro story and one gaping hole. I’ll start with the biggest because it connects to the others.

One word is missing from the Yahoo! story: Drugs.

You can’t tell this story accurately, honestly or credibly without addressing the drug issue. Drugs would raise legitimate questions about the nature of Shapiro’s relationships with the handful of anonymous sources backing (and/or refuting) Shapiro’s claims. Drugs would tell us a lot about Nevin Shapiro.

But the Yahoo! story would leave you to believe Shapiro operated in America’s Cocaine Capital, allegedly arranged strippers and hookers for seemingly half of The U, spent his nights in VIP areas at nightclubs and strip clubs partying with 20-somethings, and no one smoked a joint, snorted coke, popped X, swallowed OxyContin or even took Advil.

But Shapiro came clean, cleansed his soul? He’s transparent and trustworthy?

Shapiro called himself “Lil Luke,” after Luther Campbell, the Miami rapper and infamous U supporter. Really?

Shapiro reportedly has a violent temper, and, as his world collapsed, he allegedly was prone to making threatening phone calls to the people he felt owed him money or favors. His sentencing judge ordered Shapiro to seek counseling for domestic violence and drugs. He was told to avoid gambling.

One of Yahoo!’s sources — an ex-girlfriend of Shapiro’s — requested anonymity because she said she was afraid of reprisals from Miami football players.

“Why didn’t Yahoo! ask if she’s afraid of Shapiro and that’s why she’s backing his story?” asked Tom Anderson, a Miami native who works for a conservative-leaning watchdog organization that polices government corruption. “The judge ordered him to get counseling for domestic violence for a reason.”

Anderson, who works for the National Legal and Policy Center, has been researching the players in the Miami scandal since the Yahoo! story broke. Anderson discovered the financial ties between Shapiro and former Miami assistant coach Joe Pannunzio. Anderson regularly works with major media outlets on political corruption stories. He did much of the research that got representative Charlie Rangel in trouble. Anderson thinks very little of Robinson’s reporting ethics in this instance.

“(Shapiro) is a convicted felon and a proven liar. Using a guy like that as your key witness, the standard, the bar, has to be set so high that anything less than documented solid proof has to be set aside," Anderson said. “If I put in a complaint to a government agency that I’m relying on a convicted liar and the people corroborating his story are mostly anonymous, they would laugh in our face. If I was to take this to The New York Times or even the New York Post, they would laugh me out of the room. What he put in that story wouldn’t fly. No way. Not ever.”

Nevin Shapiro is Jose Canseco and Lil Luke! Really?

Shapiro employed an armed security detail. He had access to the best hookers in Miami. He loved to gamble on sports. He dropped large wads of cash at South Beach nightclubs. He made it rain at King of Diamonds and Tootsie’s.

Hookers, gambling, an armed security detail, a violent temper, a love of the nightlife and lots of cash paint the picture of a connected man, a man with ties to the underworld.

To me, Nevin Shapiro sounds more like Lil Nino Brown than Lil Luke.

Peanut butter and jelly have nothing on hookers, partying, cash and drugs. They’re birds of a feather.

Maybe Shapiro told Robinson he never used drugs or allowed them at his parties. Maybe Robinson thought allegations of drug use would be too sensational and hard to verify? More sensational than abortion? Harder to verify than the pregnancy of a hooker? Maybe Shapiro and Robinson agreed a discussion of drugs would make federal prosecutors ask Shapiro additional questions.

Shapiro did get Yahoo! to print that he never used any of the prostitutes he provided for Miami players. (I’m going to employ Robinson to write my biography. I hung out at McDonald’s and never tasted a Big Mac. I swear!)

My point is, Shapiro has a clear agenda. He wants to destroy The U, build a brand strong enough to support a book or movie deal and subtly threaten Miami players, coaches and administrators that he has even more dirt. My point is, Yahoo! has an agenda, too. In order to get the proper bounce from Shapiro’s snitching, it needed prostitutes and abortions and a reporter naive enough not to wonder why no one is getting high in Shapiro’s tale. Shapiro has a vested $take in being the guy who brought down The U.

A con man’s greatest ploy is to bait an unsuspecting victim into doing something illegal or illicit and later using that knowledge to leverage the victim into additional acts. Give Tyrone Moss $1,000 as soon as he steps on campus. Supply player “X” and a stripper with booze, weed, coke and a hotel room. Now you own that player.

We don’t know the depth of Shapiro’s connections to anyone in America’s Cocaine Capital. When he was free and living the good life, Shapiro didn’t appear to use his leverage. Incarcerated, facing 20 years of fed time, buried in debt and desperately seeking a book/movie deal, Shapiro seems to be demonstrating he’s ready to use his leverage.

Would you be surprised to learn the poisonous tree has leverage over the people corroborating his story?

Would you be surprised to learn he is attempting to financially extort some of the people he’s targeting with allegations?

I wouldn’t.

That’s not written to dispute the fact Shapiro committed clear NCAA violations. He did.

It’s written to dispute the headline-grabbing aspects of the story, the stuff printed to make ESPN and radio talk hosts take notice in a big way. Printing the abortion allegation is a journalistic crime. Robinson has zero credible proof other than the word of a congenital liar.

In one of his numerous followup interviews, Robinson said he published the abortion story because it was consistent with the way other sources said they had sex with hookers and it demonstrated Shapiro’s lack of boundaries.

No. It demonstrated Robinson’s lack of journalistic boundaries. An unknown hooker tells Shapiro she’s pregnant by a Miami football player. How does Shapiro, Robinson or the hooker know which client that day, week or month got her pregnant?

Abortion! Prostitutes! Out-of-control Mandingo athletes! The death penalty!

Frank Haith might lose his job because a congenital liar claims he paid a recruit $10,000 with Haith’s knowledge. Really?

There’s no proof. There’s just the word of the poisonous tree. This is how you win a Pulitzer? That’s all you need to torch the career of a basketball coach? As long as “most” of the Yahoo! story is true, it’s OK if Frank Haith is collateral damage? Have we really sunk that low?

A Miami fan dissected Yahoo!’s allegations point by point, exposed how flimsy most of the allegations are and rightfully concluded Robinson used suspect corroboration just so he could claim his investigation implicated 72 players. The same fan website published research into the $2 million Ponzi-scheme connection between Shapiro and Pannunzio, the one allegedly dirty Miami assistant (now Alabama assistant) Shapiro refused to talk about. Some in the media want to dismiss the website because it’s operated by a Miami fan. The fan has an agenda.

And Yahoo! doesn’t? Charles Robinson doesn’t?

Hello. The renegade booster was already in prison. He took 20 long ago.

The Miami Herald is being ridiculed for not giving Shapiro the platform Yahoo! provided the poisonous tree. The Herald should be ridiculed for failing to put Shapiro’s allegations in proper context and writing a celebratory puff piece on Robinson’s sensationalized, unfair story.

Let me make this clear: No one is denying Shapiro committed NCAA violations. That’s what overzealous boosters do. It’s just that boosters in Tuscaloosa don’t have restaurants like Prime 112 to take players to, so it’s difficult for an Alabama booster to run up the kind of jaw-dropping tab Shapiro did along South Beach. The strip clubs in Iowa City don’t stock the kind of high-end talent you’ll find in Miami. And there’s no place to dock a yacht in Muncie.

Given Shapiro’s level of deceit, how can you trust the motives of anyone who talked in this story? Everyone has been bathed in Shapiro’s cesspool. We don’t remotely understand his true ties to anyone involved in this sordid story. Given his debt and penchant for gambling, I’m surprised there are no allegations or suspicion of point-shaving.

Transcripts of interviews with federal investigators do not legitimize Yahoo!’s story. And neither will the sure-to-come NCAA sanctions.

With its offer of limited immunity — “tell us what we want to hear or we’ll take your eligibility” — it’s not difficult for the NCAA to get scared players to take a “plea agreement.” Yahoo! has created a big enough media circus to provoke NCAA suits into handing Miami “devastating consequences.”

As far as we know from the Yahoo! story, the overwhelming majority of Miami players did little to nothing wrong. But they will suffer the “devastating consequences.” The adults, including the Yahoo! reporters and editors, will skate unscathed or financially benefit.

You want to slow boosters from skirting the NCAA’s hypocritical and unethical shamateur rules? Significantly reduce the amount of money the Miami athletic department can accept for its football program for the next four years. That’s the proper penalty. That would motivate oversight.

And I say that believing Miami, its players, coaches and administrators — for the most part — were victims of a skilled, aggressive con man. Shapiro fooled everybody. One day he’ll place a picture of himself with Robinson and Wetzel alongside the pics of Eric Holder, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Donna Shalala and all the rest.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Robinson was holding the Pulitzer Prize.