Man refuses to talk with investigators
Oklahoma State still wants to talk with a Perkins, Okla., man who refuses to cooperate with its investigation into whether he provided impermissible extra benefits to Cowboys football players, including star wide receiver Justin Blackmon — a probe that has already led the university to self-report violations to the NCAA.
The man, Gannon Mendez, a 40-year-old sales representative for Scientific Resources Inc. and a golf club dealer for Cobra Golf, has refused to talk with Oklahoma State, said Kevin Fite, the university’s associate athletics director of compliance. Mendez also has declined repeated interview requests by FOXSports.com.
Even though Mendez hasn’t spoken, the investigation that Oklahoma State compliance officials started in late summer uncovered that Mendez bought a $5 drink at a bar for a player, said Fite, who declined to identify the player. The university self-reported the secondary violation to the NCAA, Fite said.
During its investigation, the university also discovered that two players sold Xbox 360 with Kinect video game systems — gifts from the Alamo Bowl last year — to athletic department employees who did not know such transactions violated NCAA rules, Fite said.
The university self-reported the sales of both Xboxes to the NCAA, and each instance has been resolved, Fite said.
The compliance director said he has exhausted every option available to the university in investigating Mendez. In addition to contacting Mendez numerous times and interviewing OSU players about Mendez, Fite said he has talked with Mendez’s friends and others in the Perkins area.
Two sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told FOXSports.com that Mendez has bragged about not cooperating with the school’s compliance officers.
Earlier this season, Fite said, Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy told his players to cease any relationships they might have with Mendez.
“We’re concerned about it,” Fite said of the allegations involving Mendez and OSU players. “We’re concerned about it like we would any potential violation and we’ve reviewed it as best as we can. Without any additional information, it’s hard for us to take any further steps. Some of that would be some cooperation on the part of him. As a member of the community, I would think he would want to do what he could to help us.”
Blackmon, who played a key role in third-ranked Oklahoma State (11-1) making Monday’s Fiesta Bowl against No. 4 Stanford (11-1), the Cowboys’ first BCS bowl appearance, has said he plans to enter the NFL draft. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt junior wide receiver, who has 113 catches for 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, is expected to be a first-round pick.
When FOXSports.com asked Blackmon about Mendez during a brief interview Thursday, he replied, “Gannon Mendez? I don’t know who that is,” before moving on to another interview.
But last year Blackmon, Oklahoma State redshirt senior wide receiver Hubert Anyiam and then-Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter attended a birthday party for Mendez’s stepdaughter. Mendez’s Facebook account until recently displayed photographs of the players posing separately with Mendez’s stepdaughter at the birthday party.
Mendez said he charged $50 for every item the players signed and gave them half the money, according to one of the sources. The other source also alleged the players were paid.
Hunter, now a rookie running back with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, did not respond to an interview request Thursday. Anyiam, who will not play in the Fiesta Bowl because of injury, was not available for comment Thursday.
According to one of the sources, Mendez said that a person paid him $300 for a piece of paper on which Blackmon doodled, and the two split the money.
One of the sources told FOXSports.com that Mendez also bragged that he sold guest passes for Oklahoma State football games belonging to Cowboys players and split the money with them. The other source said Mendez admitted he sold guest passes but maintained he gave all the money to the players.
Mendez also was heavily involved in Oklahoma State players selling their guest passes to the 2010 Cotton Bowl, one of the sources said.
“It was so many, somebody at the university questioned it,” the source said.
Generally, players do not receive actual tickets for their four guest passes and instead provide the university with the names of those who are to receive the complementary passes upon providing proper identification.
Fite said the allegations of players selling guest passes to the Cotton Bowl preceded his arrival at Oklahoma State in April 2010 but described it as “interesting.” He said the university had already self-reported violations to the NCAA for the 2009 season, which included one player selling his guest passes to the Cotton Bowl to people the university was unable to identify.
“We tried to pin down if they were tied to Gannon Mendez,” Fite said, “and we couldn’t pin it down.”
According to one of the sources, Mendez also provided Oklahoma State football players with drinks and meals and took them golfing at The Golf Club at Cimarron Trails in Perkins, which is located behind his house. Also, Mendez’s Facebook account once had a photo of him on the field at Boone Pickens Stadium helping shoot a T-shirt gun during a game.
“He was proud of it,” the source said of Mendez’s association with players. “He liked the attention.”
After Oklahoma State’s victory against Arizona in last year’s Alamo Bowl, according to one of the sources, Mendez said he was selling Xboxes for Cowboys players.
Oklahoma State sports information director Kevin Klintworth said Thursday the university and local media outlets received an anonymous email in July or early August about the allegations involving Mendez. FOXSports.com has not seen the email.
After receiving the email, Oklahoma State compliance officials started investigating the allegations, which is how the university learned of Mendez buying the $5 drink for a player and the two players selling the Xboxes to athletic department employees, Fite said.
When interviewed by Oklahoma State compliance officials, Blackmon and Anyiam admitted they attended Gannon’s stepdaughter’s birthday party but denied any of the alleged wrongdoing, Fite said. They told compliance officials they attended the party because Anyiam’s girlfriend was a babysitter for Mendez’s stepdaughter at the time.
Hunter was not interviewed by Oklahoma State officials because he had already left for the NFL. Fite said Mendez does not buy season tickets from Oklahoma State or donate to Cowboys athletics.
Mendez and some of his friends such as Jorge Munoz, owner of the El Mexicano restaurant in Perkins, were on players’ guest-pass lists during the 2009 season, Fite said. None of those players is currently on the team, he said.
The university has not officially disassociated itself from Mendez, but Fite said Mendez and some of his friends are on “a watch list” for players’ guest passes.
“If they show up on our list, they get booted out,” Fite says.
Fite interviewed Munoz about Mendez at El Mexicano in Perkins, a rural town of 2,831 about 15 minutes south of Oklahoma State’s campus. When FOXSports.com visited Munoz in November, he declined to talk about his relationship with Mendez.
“I have nothing to say,” Munoz said. “Nothing at all. No comment at all.”
Asked Thursday about his knowledge of Mendez’s relationship with Oklahoma State football players, university president Burns Hargis said he was not aware of the matter.
“That’s really for our athletic department to deal with, so I’d defer to them on this,” Hargis said.
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson declined comment about Oklahoma State and Mendez late Thursday, citing the NCAA’s policy of not commenting on potential, pending or current investigations.