N.C. Secretary of State to investigate sports agents

The N.C. Secretary of State launches a probe targeting any sports-agent improprieties.

Staff WriterJuly 22, 2010 

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall launched an investigation Wednesday into possible improprieties by sports agents in the state.

Spokesman George Jeter said the department hasn't received a complaint but is responding to media reports of possible NCAA violations that may have been caused by improper contact between agents and college athletes.

"That's it, precisely," Jeter said. "The number of media reports coming out and talking about possibly things that might have happened and possibly actions by agents, or people who should be agents if they're not, [sparked the investigation]."

It has been widely reported that NCAA investigators interviewed football players at the University of North Carolina last week. Greg Little Sr., the father of Tar Heels wide receiver Greg Little, said his son was interviewed. The News & Observer also has confirmed that defensive tackle Marvin Austin was interviewed.

Investigators also have met with South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders, who is from Durham, and Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

The North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agent Act requires agents to register with the Secretary of State's office and inform a school's athletic director within 72 hours of agreeing to a contract with an athlete.

Agents are prevented from furnishing anything of value to athletes before they enter a contract, and they are prohibited from making false representations. Violating the law is a Class I felony.

Marshall, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Richard Burr, was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening.

Jeter said messages have been sent to several parties saying they will be contacted by department staff members, and advising them not to destroy their records. He said the investigation will focus on the agents themselves.

The NCAA, which is investigating the possible loss of eligibility by athletes, asked players at North Carolina last week to sign waivers allowing examination of their telephone records and financial institution records before interviewing them, according to information released to The News & Observer on Wednesday.

In a response to a public records request, the university provided the newspaper electronic copies of e-mails between UNC staffers and NCAA officials. Most of the e-mails were addressed to Chance Miller, the NCAA's assistant director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities. Amy Herman, North Carolina's assistant athletic director for compliance, sent the NCAA a schedule for interviews to be held July 12 and 13.

Miller asked Herman to have players sign interview notice forms before speaking with investigators.

The form says providing false or misleading information to the NCAA is a violation of the NCAA's ethical conduct policy. Miller also informed Herman that the athletes had a right to bring personal legal counsel to the meeting, although it's unclear whether the athletes did so.

Miller wrote that he and the NCAA's director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities, Rachel Newman-Baker, planned to be on campus and meet Herman before the interviews.

On July 10, Herman wrote Miller to explain that some of the coaches Miller had referenced in an earlier communication would be on vacation when the investigators visited. Other coaches would be in the office, and Herman suggested having them speak with investigators during breaks in the interview schedule.

On the documents, all mention of the names of athletes and coaches are redacted. Any mention of the sport involved also is redacted.

Herman asked Miller for a copy of a confidentiality statement for the school's legal counsel to review. Herman also sent Miller information he had requested about disability insurance.

The NCAA allows athletes who are expected to be high draft picks to purchase insurance policies that will pay them if catastrophic injuries that occur when they are in college ruin their professional careers.

North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour has provided the school's only public comments on the investigation, saying that the NCAA was on campus to interview athletes and the school intends to cooperate fully.

ESPN has cited unnamed sources in reporting that investigators are trying to determine who paid for Austin, Little, Saunders and other players to attend an agent's beach party at Miami's South Beach this summer.

Little said his son and Austin went on a spring break trip to Miami in March. Saunders' father, N&O metro columnist Barry Saunders, said his son was in Miami for spring break in March but did not travel with Austin and Little.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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