On Monday, the NCAA released its report on an internal investigation into wrongdoing committed by members of its enforcement staff in the University of Miami (Nevin Shapiro) investigation. The "missteps," as the NCAA calls it, centers around NCAA enforcement staff members paying Nevin Shapiro's attorney, Maria Perez, $19,000 in "expenses" in exchange for her using her power to subpoena several witnesses in Shapiro's bankruptcy proceeding and ask them questions fed to her by the NCAA, a power the NCAA notoriously lacks.
The enforcement staff members sought legal advice from NCAA lawyers on their plan to hire Perez for this purpose, and were advised not to do it. This was wise advice as a subpoena is drawing upon the power of a court to compel a person to do something they ordinarily would not be required to do, and using that power for some ulterior motive unrelated to court business is highly improper (the NCAA claims no laws were broken, but that is a statement of no significance because such conduct is governed more by court rules and attorney ethical rules, not statutes.)
Alas, the enforcement staff wasn't satisfied with that advice because it didn't get them what they wanted, so they simply called the payments "expenses" instead of "fees" and did it anyway.
So who were these renegade enforcement staffers? Well, what a surprise to find that the same investigators played a central role in the USC investigation.
Najjar was central to the Miami "missteps." The NCAA calls him the "point person" for the Perez deposition proposal. After he got the stop sign from legal, he was undeterred:
"[Najjar] developed a “way around” that legal advice – characterizing payments to Perez as reimbursement for “costs” rather than compensation for legal services – but never sought or obtained Legal Staff approval for his “way around.”
[Najjar] arranged to hire Ms. Perez despite the policy that outside counsel may only be hired by the Legal Staff.
[Najjar] assured his supervisors, Ms. Lach and Mr. Hosty, that the Legal Staff had approved his proposed arrangement with Ms. Perez, even though he had never presented his “way around” to the Legal Staff."
Despite the above, the NCAA report concluded that Najjar's actions "reflect a conscientious concern for the propriety of his actions." But consider this:
"[O]n those occasions when Ms. Perez emailed him seeking payment for “legal fees” beyond her expenses (Exhibit 37; Exhibit 38; Exhibit 39; Exhibit 40), Mr. Najjar never emailed her back to correct or remind her that the NCAA had agreed only to pay expenses."
Najjar claims he called Perez and reminded her that she would only be reimbursed for expenses, not fees, but Perez disputes this and says that she would have protested this vigorously. But if the agreement was merely for reimbursement of expenses, then an email Najjar wrote to the VP of Enforcement seems puzzling:
"On another occasion, when Ms. Perez was trying to persuade the NCAA of the need to depose additional witnesses, Mr. Najjar wrote Ms. Lach an email explaining that he was “not going to allow [Perez] to depose unnecessary witnesses simply for her to make money.” (emphasis added) (Exhibit 20). That should not have been a concern if the NCAA were truly reimbursing Ms. Perez only for her expenses."
So where does Najjar fit in with the USC case? Well, Najjar was the enforcement staffer who told USC that the NCAA was excluding USC from the Lloyd Lake interview but then told the NCAA Committee on Infractions that it was Lake, not the NCAA, that excluded USC from the interview. His email to USC on the day of the interview:
"Let me clarify one thing. It is not my understanding that Lake banned USC from today's possible interview. When the enforcement staff raised the possibility of USC's participation early on, it created a number of complications, coupled with the highly tenuous nature of the possible interview and the number of previously cancelled interviews, we thought it prudent at the time to simply attempt to get the interview."
Compare the above with his assertion to the NCAA Committee on Infractions (the committee which oversaw the hearing and levied sanctions against USC):
"If I could briefly respond, I don't disagree that the institution and the Pac-10 were excluded [from the Lake interview], but I want to make it clear that it was not the enforcement staff that excluded them. It took us months and months and months of wrangling to get Lloyd Lake's interview in the first place. As you know, he is certainly not under the jurisdiction of the NCAA. He did not have to interview with us at all, and he and his legal counsel excluded the University and the Pac-10. So, I want to make that clear. Again it was not the enforcement staff. Every interview we attempted or conducted, we always requested that the University of Southern California and the Pac-10 be allowed to participate, and in many of those instances were successful."
Johanningmeier was initially the lead investigator in the Miami investigation. He reported to Najjar. With Nevin Shapiro in prison, Johanningmeier went to great lengths to communicate with the star witness. Johanningmeier and Najjar met with Shapiro in person on two occasions, and Najjar met with Shapiro a third time. But that apparently wasn't enough:
"To facilitate communications between the NCAA and Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Johanningmeier purchased a disposable mobile phone and paid for Mr. Shapiro’s use of the prison telephone system. Mr. Johanningmeier, in turn, expensed those costs to the NCAA. (Comley; Lach; Johanningmeier; Najjar; Shapiro). We learned that the NCAA had expended approximately $8,200 to fund communications with Mr. Shapiro, including transfers of approximately $4,500 to his prison commissary account from which he pays for communications expenses."
A burner phone AND $8,200? A skeptic might note that Shapiro likely had the ability to use the $4,500 deposited in his commissary account for things other than communicating with the NCAA, and it seems odd that three separate means of phone communication were necessary: the burner, the $4,500 deposited into the commissary account, and whatever means by which the remaining $3,700 in expenses were incurred (collect calls?).
As for the USC case, Johanningmeier led the questioning of all or nearly all the witnesses, including Lake, Todd McNair, and Maiesha Jones. He and Najjar also represented the enforcement staff at the hearing. Most notably, Johanningmeier repeatedly bungled questions to Lake and McNair about a phone call in January 2006 (or was it January 2005) that formed the center of the NCAA's case against McNair.