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August 23, 2011

Yahoo! Sports Uncensored: Questions from the fans

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CaneSport.com subscribers have had a lot of questions for Yahoo! Sports reporter Charles Robinson, who broke the story about Nevin Shapiro's allegations against UM. Robinson answers every one of the subscribers' questions for CaneSport.

Here are the unedited responses from Robinson to questions posted on the CaneSport message boards:

Q. Why didn't Yahoo Sports contact anyone from Lucky Strike to confirm that part of the story?

A. We have confirmation from players who were in Lucky Strike with Nevin Shapiro eating, drinking and bowling. Confirmation where players implicated themselves and others. I am confident the players know whether or not they were in the establishment with Nevin. Based on that, a comment from the owner was irrelevant. Whether he believes players were in the establishment with Shapiro or not - and he hasn't said unequivocally that they weren't - the actual words of direct participants take precedent.

Q. Why did the investigative team stick to Shapiro's friends and employees for verifying their story? Staying in Shapiro's circle enforced their story but the sources were all tainted.

A. That assumption is incorrect. There were a great many people who had their opportunity to debunk Nevin Shapiro or speak their mind about him. They either passed or never returned calls. For example, Luther Campbell has been very vocal in denouncing Shapiro since this story came out. I reached out to Luther on Oct. 25 and had a dialogue with him. I told him we were working on a story about Nevin Shapiro. He promised to meet with me for an interview and never followed through. I followed up with Luther on Dec. 7, Dec. 9 and Dec. 10. Again, he spoke to me about setting up a meeting and never followed through. From Dec. 10 on, he never returned another message. I would also like to point out that we attempted to interview every player, coach and support staffer named in this piece. The overwhelming majority refused to comment or didn't return messages. We also asked to interview multiple individuals at Miami for the piece, and they chose to stand on a general statement from the university. We even reached out to former athletic director Paul Dee, who didn't return calls.

Q. Why the inclusion of the supposed pregnancy and subsequent abortion - perhaps the most inflammatory thing in the article? This is impossible to substantiate. Even if it occurred (a big if) it would be impossible to prove that the baby was in fact the players. I mean this was a stripper right?

A. The allegation of the abortion is included because it illustrates the lack of boundaries that Shapiro had in his dealings with players. Moreover, the sexual incident itself - and how Shapiro described it unfolding - was completely consistent with how other players described their own sexual situations taking place while with the booster. We can't speak to any paternity issues.

Q. How was Shapiro questioned? Did the reporters collect all of the credit card statements and then begin asking questions or did Shapiro present dates, times and names and then the writer found the documents to back up Shapiro's story? Hard to believe Shapiro would be able to recall all of those stories on his own (especially if he was also partying with professional athletes as well on seemingly a nonstop basis).

A. Shapiro recalled dates from his memory, often tied to a particular season or game, and we were able to identify charges on his bills. His ability to recall dates and incidents was often tied to his ability to remember specific sporting events, or other personal events in his life.

Q. Why did you mention the kids that had allegations against them without any proof (e. Vegas Franklin)?

A. If a player is listed in an individual player page, there was a source corroborating some aspect of them having received benefits from Shapiro. If there is no source listed in the corroborating sources section, it is due to the potential of revealing a source that could have potentially been exposed by spelling out specifics of an incident.

Q. If Yahoo checked all their facts, why have five players already been cleared on allegations they felt were strong enough to print? Why would they print any allegation that was only supported by the word of convicted criminals including his girlfriend/co-conspiritor in the Ponzi scheme?

A. First, some players, such as Jeffrey Godfrey, are cleared because the incidents involving them were not violations by the players. They were booster violations by Shapiro (such as improper contact with a recruit). Secondly, if you'll reference the investigation into the North Carolina football program last season, you will see that other players retained all or portions of their eligibility based on their cooperation with NCAA investigators. For example, Marcell Dareus was suspended for only two games due to "mitigating circumstances." Cooperating with an investigation is a mitigating circumstance. Indeed, there is an NCAA bylaw which states that investigators can grant immunity to players if the player is able to provide information which could not be obtained elsewhere.

Q. Why do you feel credit card receipts are good evidence when credit cards can't tell you who ate with him? Do you have any idea how much it would really cost to throw the parties they are claiming at the Mercury Hotel? One bottle of champagne there costs as much as his whole bill.

A. The receipts are backed up by sourcing beyond Nevin Shapiro - either players, individuals who took part, or the sources at the establishment where the money was spent. In many cases, we granted full protection to the sources verifying receipts and incidents. As for the Mercury Hotel, it has never offered champagne for sale, so there is no way that could ever have been part of a bill.

Q. Did Shapiro and/or his attorney "sell" the story to Yahoo in any way? Did Yahoo provide any type of renumeration or benefit to Shapiro for his exclusivity?

A. Absolutely not. Shapiro chose to speak with Yahoo! because he was approached and told that we were in the midst of writing a story about his dealings with players and Axcess Sports. He was given the opportunity to cooperate and give his side of the story, or decline. He was informed that no matter what he did, the story was going to be written. He chose to cooperate.

Q. Ray-Ray Armstrong's father flatly denies receiving any benefits on the trip or a Sean Taylor Jersey. Was he ever contacted? Does Yahoo! know he and his wife were on all Ray-Ray's trips? Do they know the date he claimed to take players out after an FSU game was a whole month off the actual date of the game and therefore the credit card receipts are wrong?

A. Ray-Ray Armstrong's involvement on his recruiting trip with Shapiro has been corroborated by a source who was also on hand for the incident. The source is very credible. As for the credit card tied to the FSU game, it was initially misidentified in a cutline as a September receipt. However, if you had clicked on the document, you would have seen it was indeed a receipt from October. The cutline was incorrect. Not the bill.

Q. Olivier Vernon watched the Miami-Florida State game in my suite while he was senior in high school. It was a bad, raining, horrible soaked game. I remember we were there until almost midnight. This page from Shapiro's October 2008 American Express Platinum card statement shows a charge of $1,610.51 which the booster identified as a tab for alcohol in his VIP section at Cameo following Miami's home loss to Florida State that season. Shapiro said he entertained at least five players in his section that night, including Robert Marve, Randy Phillips, Jacory Harris, Dedrick Epps and Gavin Hardin ... These are statements on Yahoo's accounts of Robert Marve and Olivier Vernon...how is it that BOTH of these happened at the same time? Is it possible that he was at Dolphin Stadium with Vernon until midnight, and was ALSO at the VIP of Cameo that mapquest.com says is 18.3 miles and 26 minutes away. During the time that he was with Vernon until almost midnight he still rang up a charge of $1,610.51 all before midnight (as the charge shows up on the date of 10/04/2008 and if the charge had been rung up after midnight would have shown up as 10/05/2008). I would love for Yahoo! to explain this.

A. A member of Shapiro's security detail told Yahoo! Sports that the booster often sent his bodyguards to clubs to "prep" a VIP section for his arrival. This included making sure the area was cleared out, secure, and that alcohol - typically bottles of champagne and liquor - were in his seating area and ready to be consumed upon the arrival of Shapiro and his guests. This claim was also corroborated by a player who was familiar with the practice. Shapiro and his bodyguards were also a known entity at clubs, so members of his security team were authorized to make charges on the booster's credit cards while "prepping" the bottles of alcohol in his VIP area. On this particular night, a member of the booster's security detail said the alcohol had been charged on Shapiro's card by a bodyguard for the section prior to Shapiro's arrival.

Q. How many sources did Yahoo! interview that Shapiro didn't give you? How many did you interview that were not former associates or employees of Shapiro?

A. Many. Retail shop owners, restaurateurs, nightclub employees. In addition we reviewed federal testimony in Shapiro's Ponzi case. From the story: Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources - including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach - corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro's rule-breaking.

Q. Why was Shapiro not questioned further about his confrontation with the compliance guy?

A. He was questioned about it extensively and was quoted about it in Dan Wetzel's story. Yahoo! Sports asked Miami's David Reed for a comment as well and Reed declined to comment.

Q. Howard Clark, Vegas Franklin, Frank Gore, Carlos Joseph, and Colin McCarthy are listed but there is no evidence given; what is the evidence used to substantiate their inclusion?

A. As mentioned above, if a player is listed in the individual player page, there was a source corroborating some aspect of them having received benefits from Shapiro. If there is no source listed in the corroborating sources section, it is due to the potential of revealing a source who could have been exposed by the specifics of an incident.

Q. Why was Shapiro not asked if the University employees gave him instructions and explained the rules regarding his interaction with these kids? If so why did he choose to ignore those instructions?

A. Shapiro said he was aware of rules that existed but didn't care if he broke them. He states that in the story.

Q. Did Yahoo! notice that photos you claimed were taken at the Fiesta Bowl were clearly not? The uniforms were the wrong color and some were clearly taken in the Orange Bowl. How was the information regarding these photos obtained? Strictly Shapiro's word? If you actually vetted them to substantiate his claims how were these obvious issues missed, or why were they ignored?

A. The cutlines for the photos were corrected. They accurately indicate that the photos were taken in the final regular-season game before the bowl game. Shapiro did not identify when this group of photos was taken.

Q. What was the process for vetting, what are the standards to actually print something ... eyewitnesses, 1 or 2 people to confirm. I think that would explain a lot, and we would also have a standard to apply case by case.

A. In the case of any allegation in the story, Shapiro's comments were supported by a corroborating source or sources: human, photo, document or otherwise. Often multiple sources.

Q. The partner in the sports agency flatly denied Shapiro's version of how the four were signed by that agency. Why didn't Yahoo report his denial? Don't they have a journalistic job to do, make sure the story is true? why not talk to him?

A. We did talk to Michael Huyghue. We printed his denial. It's in the story.

Q. The Yahoo! article contained many allegations of Shapiro taking players out on bye weeks, etc., but the only documentation was a large line item on a credit card statement from a club or hotel. How was the connection made to players beyond Shapiro's allegations, when the more natural assumption would merely seem to be that Shapiro spent more money at clubs or other forms of personal entertainment when his time wasn't occupied by watching a game? Shapiro says he rented a whole floor of a hotel, provided hookers to a large number of team members. Do you have any witnesses, from chamber maids, hotel desk, room service etc.

A. The receipts are backed up by sourcing beyond Shapiro - either players, individuals who took part, or the sources at the establishment where the money was spent. In many cases, we granted full protection to the sources verifying receipts and incidents.

Q. How is someone considered to be receiving impermissible benefits with the only evidence being a credit card statement? Numerical amounts say what you purchase but doesn't say for whom. How do you prove that by the word of a guy who manipulated $900+ million from people? How do you know that you aren't being duped?

A. See the response above. It wasn't just credit card statements. We verified by other means.

Q. How did Yahoo! manage to do an investigative piece this big and exhaustive without tipping off UM that it was in the works? As many places that offenses were alleged to have occurred, Yahoo! would had to have interviewed hundreds of people. Over an 11-month period we're to believe that not one person tipped off UM that an investigative piece was in the offing from Yahoo? Or did Yahoo simply take the word of Shapiro backed up by his girlfriend (the oft-mentioned one corroborating unnamed witness) as gospel?

A. From the story: In an effort to substantiate the booster's claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources - including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach - corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro's rule-breaking. More from the story: While the NCAA declined comment, Miami associate AD for communications Chris Freet told Yahoo! Sports the school has been cooperating with an NCAA probe to unravel claims the booster has made to investigators. He added that the university unsuccessfully sought an interview with the booster last summer.




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