2 Sentenced to Prison in NBA Betting Scandal

July 24, 2008 1:28:20 PM PDT
Two former high school classmates of disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy were both sentenced to more than a year in prison Thursday for their roles in a betting scandal that embarrassed the league. A federal judge in Brooklyn gave James Battista, a professional gambler and admitted drug addict, 15 months in prison for making bets based on inside tips. Thomas Martino, the scheme's middleman, was sentenced to a year and one day for paying the referee thousands of dollars for the tips.

The men, both 42 and former classmates of Donaghy in Springfield, Pa., apologized before being sentenced.

"I'm not blaming either one of my co-defendants," Battista said. "I made bad choices."

Martino assured U.S. District Judge Carol Amon that once released from prison, "I will do everything in my power to restore my reputation."

The judge rejected arguments by defense attorneys that their clients deserved probation. The gambling plot, she said, had serious repercussions because anytime a referee's "integrity is compromised in any way, the entire sport is compromised."

Donaghy, 41, pleaded guilty last year to felony charges he took the cash payoffs from gamblers for picks on games, including ones he officiated, based on his behind-the-scenes knowledge. He faces up to 33 months in prison at sentencing Tuesday.

In a decision filed Wednesday, the judge said the three defendants must jointly pay the NBA $217,266 in restitution. The league had sought nearly $1.4 million covering hefty legal bills and a portion of Donaghy's salary dating to 2003 - a claim the judge found excessive.

"It is undisputed that Donaghy dishonestly refereed 16 games during the 2006-2007 season, and a corresponding portion of his compensation for these games is an appropriate measure of the NBA's loss," she wrote.

In June, Donaghy cast a cloud over the NBA finals by making fresh accusations that the league routinely encouraged refs to ring up bogus fouls to manipulate results but discouraged them from calling technical fouls on star players to keep them in games and protect ticket sales and television ratings.

The allegations - contained in court papers arguing that Donaghy deserved leniency for voluntarily disclosing the alleged corruption - included one instance claiming referees rigged a 2002 playoff series to force it to a revenue-boosting seven games.

Though the papers didn't name the teams involved, only the Los Angeles Lakers-Sacramento Kings series went to seven games during those playoffs. The Lakers went on to win the championship.

NBA commissioner David Stern has called the allegations baseless, saying Donaghy was only "singing" to get a lighter sentence.