Lance Thomas settles lawsuit, which could complicate NCAA's ability to get answers

Potential NCAA investigation into former Duke basketball player could now be stymied

lkeeley@newsobserver.comSeptember 19, 2012 

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2008-2009 men's basketball - Lance Thomas

JON GARDINER — Jon Gardiner

  • Apartment owner filed claim against Thomas to collect rent Former Duke forward Lance Thomas owed money to more than just Manhattan-based Raefello & Co. during his senior year. Four months after Thomas failed to pay the remaining balance on five pieces of custom jewelry, the owner of his apartment filed a court complaint against him for failing to pay rent. On April 16, 2010 – 10 days after Thomas helped Duke win the national championship – The Parc at University Tower filed a small claim action in Durham County District Court alleging Thomas had not paid $825.30 in rent. According to a copy of the complaint obtained by the News & Observer, Thomas, who is the sole defendant, failed to pay the rent due, and the owner gave him a 10-day grace period before filing the complaint. Thomas was served by the Durham County Sheriff’s Office with a rent notice, which is the first step in the eviction process, on April 19, spokesman Paul Sherwin said. Thomas did not end up getting evicted. The complaint was dropped on April 30, 2010 when Thomas and the representatives for the apartment complex failed to appear on the scheduled trial date. Scott Gould, a vice president of Sherman Residential, then the owner of the property, said in an email that Thomas paid in full before the company sold the complex in September 2010. Thomas listed that same address – 914 Marilee Glen Court – on the purchase agreement he signed with Manhattan-based jeweler Raefello & Co. on Dec. 21, 2009. Laura Keeley

Former Duke basketball player Lance Thomas settled his pending lawsuit with the jeweler suing him for defaulting on a $67,800 payment, making a potential investigation much tougher for the NCAA.

“We have reached a settlement,” Mike Bowers, the attorney for Raefello & Co. wrote in an email. “I cannot make further comment."

Terms of the settlement are confidential. While the NCAA and Duke will continue to work together on the matter, the jeweler will not be participating in any potential investigation. Bowers confirmed to the News & Observer last week that his client declined to talk to the NCAA.

The NCAA does not have subpoena power, so it cannot force the jeweler or Thomas to cooperate with an investigation.

Thomas purchased $97,800 worth of custom jewelry on Dec. 21, 2009, midway through his senior year. He made a $30,000 down payment and signed a purchase agreement to pay the balance within 15 days. Thomas defaulted on his payment. Raefello & Co. filed a lawsuit in January after repeated attempts to collect payment.

Unanswered are two key questions: How did Thomas get $30,000 for a down payment, and how was a college student extended a $67,800 loan?

Athletes are in violation of NCAA bylaw 16.01.3 if they receive extra benefits – such as loans based on future earnings potential – based on their athletic status. Any such benefit would be considered an “extra benefit” and put Thomas’ eligibility in jeopardy.

Finding answers will be more difficult without input from the jeweler.

“If everybody keeps their mouth shut and everybody refuses to talk to the NCAA, and by everybody I mean Thomas and the jeweler and whoever might have provided him this $30,000 if it did come from someone else, then there’s not much the NCAA can do if they don’t get information,” John Infante, a former assistant director of compliance at Colorado State who now writes a blog on compliance issues, said last week. “A lot of these extra benefit cases, the person that provided the benefit might not be willing to talk to the NCAA.”

When asked how the settlement affected the NCAA’s position, spokesperson Stacey Osburn reiterated the organization’s Sept. 7 statement – “We are aware of the matter and have been in communication with the university” – and declined to comment further.

“The process remains the same in that Duke and the NCAA continue to work together on the matter,” Duke associate athletic director Jon Jackson said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

Neither Thomas nor Joe Crews, his attorney, responded to multiple phone calls seeking comment.

The NCAA must inform Duke in writing by Dec. 21, 2013 of its intent to investigate.

If the NCAA decides to investigate, it would not be subject to any type of due process, said David Ridpath, a former director of compliance at Marshall and current Ohio University professor who has testified before Congress on compliance issues. The organization’s power to investigate and punish at will stems from a 1988 Supreme Court case. NCAA v. Tarkanian ruled that, even though its membership was composed of state universities, the NCAA itself was not a state actor.

“It’s essentially considered a private club,” Ridpath said. “And in private clubs, they can make rules that might seem a little bit strange to the rest of us and get away with it.

“Right now, the NCAA does not have to provide due process, and they don’t have to answer to too many people with regard to their investigative and enforcement infractions processes that they have.”

Duke athletic director Kevin White, speaking generally about the challenges facing college athletics, said compliance is a major issue.

“It’s all-consuming, never-ending,” he said. “It’s something you have to be ever vigilant on and about. So many units, so many transactions, so many opportunities to find yourself in a highly unfavorable position that can discredit your institution, staff, student-athletes, so many people that are part of the enterprise.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556

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