The formerly silent UNC-Chapel Hill tutor who figured prominently in the Tar Heels’ football scandal has opened up to two key investigators after refusing to talk with the NCAA and UNC administrators about the help she provided to UNC football players years ago.
Jennifer Wiley Thompson agreed recently to sit down with Jim Woodall, the district attorney of Orange and Chatham counties, and Kenneth Wainstein, the former U.S. Justice Department official conducting a probe of the academic scandal at UNC.
The former tutor did so in the face of criminal allegations that she acted outside the bounds of North Carolina law governing sports agents.
Woodall said Thursday that after talking with Thompson, he agreed to drop four felony charges filed against her a year ago and likely use her as a witness in cases against others accused of violating North Carolina’s Uniform Agent Athlete Act.
“I felt based on everything, she was going to be more valuable as a witness than she was as a defendant,” Woodall said.
Thompson was charged in October 2013 with four counts of athlete-agent inducement, a low-level felony that carries a maximum of 15 months as well as the possibility of civil penalties up to $25,000.
Prosecutors had alleged Thompson provided former UNC-CH football player Greg Little with two $579 round-trip plane tickets to Florida as part of an attempt to persuade him to enter a contract with sports agent Terry Watson of the Georgia-based Watson Sports Agency.
Little was a wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns from 2011 until his release in May. He had a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders over the summer but is a free agent.
In addition to the plane tickets, Thompson also had been accused of delivering packages to Little containing $2,000 and $150 in cash.
Joseph B. Cheshire V, the Raleigh attorney who has represented Thompson since 2010, when she refused to talk with NCAA investigators about her ties to 11 Tar Heel football players, said on Thursday that he invited Woodall and Wainstein to sit down with his client. He said he had advised her not to talk with NCAA investigators or UNC administrators because he thought they had an agenda.
Cheshire said he thought Woodall and Wainstein were more interested in finding out the facts without an agenda.
“I knew she had never been given a fair shake,” Cheshire said on Thursday.
NCAA rules allow agents to meet with college athletes but forbid the students from entering into contracts, verbal or written, while still eligible to play. Players cannot accept meals, gifts, transportation or other incentives to sign contracts later.
But NCAA regulations govern the athletes and schools, not the agents.
Under North Carolina law, sports agents are required to register with the Secretary of State’s office and are prohibited from providing cash and other benefits to student athletes.
In addition to mandatory registration, the law requires agents to notify schools immediately when they sign college athletes. The students are given 14 days to change their minds and cancel contracts, and schools have the legal right to sue agents who violate the law – though that option is rarely exercised. Agents who fail to comply can be punished with civil or criminal penalties.
Terry Watson, a Georgia-based agent, faces 14 felony counts in Orange County – 13 for athlete-agent inducement and one for obstructing justice. He is said to have provided nearly $24,000 to former UNC football players Little, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn to get them to sign with his agency.
Patrick Jones, a Georgia-based real estate agent and longtime associate of Watson, is accused of providing money to Quinn through a third party.
Michael Wayne Johnson Jr., a former N.C. Central University quarterback and a friend of Little, faces accusations of athlete-agent inducement, too.
A hearing on the cases is set for Oct. 15 in Orange County.
‘The UNC tutor’
Thompson helped players after she left the UNC tutoring programs in ways that placed her “sometimes out of bounds without even knowing she was, but yes, occasionally just out of bounds,” Cheshire said two years ago.
Since then, she has been a teacher, but her ties to the Tar Heel football program’s NCAA problems have posed employment challenges, Cheshire said.
In September 2011, she resigned from Jeffreys Grove Elementary School in Raleigh after a little more than a month on the job. Cheshire said she quit because parents complained she was “the UNC tutor.”
Over the years, Cheshire has batted back any contentions that Butch Davis, the Tar Heel football coach fired amid the NCAA investigation, had any idea Thompson helped players with homework outside the tutoring center. She worked as a tutor for Davis’ son, Cheshire said, but has not worked for them since the questions arose.
Cheshire also knocked down Internet rumors about the extent of Wiley’s relationship with Little, saying they had a relationship as “friends,” but there was nothing sexual or physical between the two.
Though Wiley was not an employee of the university when she helped the 11 players with homework, her actions, according to an NCAA report announcing infractions and penalties, were seen “as those of a booster.”
Cheshire praised Woodall on Thursday for dismissing the charges against Thompson.
“Ms. Thompson committed no crime at any time and we commend Mr. Woodall for doing the right thing and dismissing these cases,” Cheshire said in a statement. “Ms. Thompson has suffered too much over the last four years and hopefully can now begin to put all of this behind her.”
Woodall said Thursday that after his conversations with Thompson he was struck by several things – her openness and how close in age she was to the student-athletes who were not facing criminal allegations.
“I am looking at the cases with that in mind,” Woodall said.
The charges filed against Thompson and four others in October 2013 were seen as a test of the teeth of laws in North Carolina and across the country that criminalizes most contact between sports agents and college athletes.
Woodall said he plans to proceed with cases and is confident that if he subpoenas Thompson that she will provide details that have not yet been made public.
“Based on my dealings with her and her lawyers, I believe that if she is subpoenaed that she will testify truthfully,” Woodall said.