Maria Elena Perez defended her involvement in the NCAA investigation of UM in an interview with NBC 6 Wednesday. Perez, who was paid by the NCAA to use her subpoena power to depose witnesses under the guise of a bankruptcy case, said she believes the NCAA's wrongful conduct was imputed to her. "I think I have more than enough information and evidence to show that I was led down the primrose path. No one ever told me, we've had a problem," she said.
The NCAA believes former Miami assistant coaches Clint Hurtt, Aubrey Hill and Jorge Fernandez provided false or misleading information during the probe into the Hurricanes' athletic department.
The NCAA said all three violated "principles of ethical conduct" as part of the notice of allegations served against the Hurricanes, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the allegations have not been released publicly.
Hurtt and Hill were members of Miami's football staff. Fernandez worked on the men's basketball staff.
Several other coaches are named or referenced in the allegations, including Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith. But only Hurtt, Hill and Fernandez are facing the ethical conduct charge, commonly known as NCAA Rule 10.1.
Hurtt is currently on the staff at Louisville. Hill is not working as a coach at this time, and Fernandez spent last season as an assistant at Marshall, resigning last May.
UM Receives Notice of Allegations From NCAA
The notice of allegations was delivered to Miami on Tuesday, and the university is facing the charge that it had a "lack of institutional control'' – one of the worst things the NCAA can levy against a member school. The charge revolves around how the school allegedly failed to monitor conduct of Nevin Shapiro, a rogue booster and convicted felon who provided cash, gifts and other items to players on the football and men's basketball teams.
University President Donna Shalala said Tuesday night that the Hurricanes have suffered enough already through self-imposed sanctions. Through a university spokesman, she declined further comment Wednesday.
Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, defended her involvement in the NCAA investigation of UM in an interview with NBC 6 Wednesday.
Perez offered to help NCAA investigators by using subpoena power to depose witnesses under the guise of a bankruptcy case, and NCAA enforcement officials accepted her offer and paid her at least $19,000 for her work, though she billed them for three times that much, documents the NCAA released on Monday showed. Any allegations that came from the answers in those depositions were taken out of the Miami case, the NCAA said Monday as it acknowledged that missteps were made.
Perez told NBC 6 that she needed to depose several people to find out what monies might be available for restitution to Shapiro's Ponzi scheme victims, and said his family had run out money to pay her bills. She said she proposed to the NCAA that it pay the bills and she would share the deposition information with them.
"I did not break any bankruptcy laws or rules, I didn't break any bar rules, I haven't broken any ethical rules,” Perez said.
The NCAA later decided it had violated its own rules by agreeing to the arrangement, and said it deleted 20 percent of the evidence in the UM investigation.
Perez said no one from the NCAA ever told her the arrangement violated NCAA rules, or she wouldn't have done it. She said she believes the NCAA’s wrongful conduct was imputed to her.
"I think I have more than enough information and evidence to show that I was led down the primrose path. No one ever told me, we've had a problem,” she said.
Perez said the NCAA damaged her reputation when it said that “evidence was obtained illegally.”
“For me, the term illegally means illegal, that somebody broke a law, a law, a statute, and nobody broke a law and nobody broke a statute,” she said.
Perez said she intends to exercise her legal rights to get the remaining money she is owed by the NCAA.
For the allegations against Hurtt and Hill, the NCAA said they committed the same violations, at least related to the ethical conduct matter.
The NCAA alleged both provided meals, transportation and lodging to either recruits, current players, or both in either 2008 or 2009. Both were interviewed by the NCAA during the course of its probe and allegedly denied providing those extra benefits, statements the NCAA said were contradicted in each case by what players told them separately.
Hurtt also took a $2,500 personal loan from Shapiro, which was repaid. The NCAA also believes he sent about 40 impermissible text messages to recruits, which typically is a secondary, or minor, violation.
Fernandez, the NCAA alleged, "knowingly provided extra benefits" in the form of an air ticket. The NCAA said Fernandez denied using air miles for the tickets for a men's basketball player and a high school coach, despite evidence to the contrary.
In February 2012, Miami center Reggie Johnson was ruled ineligible by the school after an investigation revealed that members of his family accepted "impermissible travel benefits" from a member of the school's former coaching staff, without specifying Fernandez or anyone else by name. The university said Johnson was not aware of the benefits, personally accepted nothing and that his family had been told they were allowed.
Johnson was reinstated quickly last season, and remains a key part of this season's team - now ranked No. 2 in the nation and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ongoing cloud of the scandal is not hurting the Hurricanes, basketball coach Jim Larranaga said Tuesday night.
"If it was overshadowing what we were doing, this room would not be packed," Larranaga said after his team beat Virginia. "We're getting so much exposure. We can only focus on the things we have control over. We have nothing to do with the investigation."
Several other former Miami coaches are named in the allegations as well, including one-time men's basketball assistant Jake Morton, who the NCAA said, among other things, accepted "supplemental income" of at least $6,000 from Shapiro. Morton is now on the staff at Western Kentucky.
Missouri coach Frank Haith is alleged of failing "to promote an atmosphere for compliance," a charge specific to how he handled things when Shapiro allegedly wanted money in exchange for not going public with accusations that he paid to help the Hurricanes recruit a player.
Some of the allegations are more than 10 years old, including a claim that Shapiro bought a suit for former Miami star running back Willis McGahee to wear to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in 2002.
Other allegations include that he paid for dinners at Benihana, televisions, sneakers, Miami Heat tickets, bowling parties, one player's engagement ring, a used washer-dryer set for current New England Patriots lineman Vince Wilfork, and that he directed his girlfriend to give two former Hurricanes no-show jobs for a couple of months.