First evidence produced in USD game-fixing case

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The first snippet of evidence came forth Friday in the prosecution of two former University of San Diego basketball players and a former USD coach accused of trying to fix college basketball games. At a detention hearing for Steve Goria, the alleged ring leader among the 10 defendants in the case and the only one who has not been granted bond, the prosecution played swatches of recorded phone calls intended to portray Goria as a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Chun played excerpts from two calls -- the first featuring Goria and an unnamed man, the second featuring Goria and defendant David Gates, 34, a gang member and former high school defensive lineman who stands charged with helping Goria and others collect gambling debts.

In the first call, Goria is heard telling someone angrily: "We'll see, [expletive]. You owe me 850... Keep the money... I'm going to beat your [expletive] you little [expletive], you'll see... You're a [expletive], homey."

When asked after the hearing whether Goria had been speaking to an athlete during the call, Chun declined to comment. (At an earlier hearing on April 14, Chun said that Goria had threatened a college basketball player "in the past year." On Friday, Chun could not confirm precisely when the call he played in court had been recorded.)

Goria, dressed in a khaki jumpsuit, whispered to his counsel as the call was played in open court. Defense attorney Michael Berg rose once the tape was stopped and tried to dismiss the call by advising U.S. District judge Anthony Battaglia that the person Goria had been speaking to was a "good friend."

The tone of the second call was not as heated. Goria was heard telling Gates that a debtor had "skipped a payment" of $5,000 which should have been made the previous month. "I need that money," Goria said. He went on to tell Gates that he'd advised the debtor that he was going to send a "guy to go collect it" -- presumably Gates.

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In a federal indictment unsealed three weeks ago, prosecutors allege that Goria conspired with USD's all-time leading scorer, Brandon Johnson, former USD guard Brandon Dowdy (who finished his career at UC-Riverside), former USD assistant coach T.J. Brown, and others, to alter the outcome of a USD game in 2010 and at least one game in 2011. The indictment also includes charges of running an illegal gambling operation and distributing marijuana.

Attorneys for former USD players Johnson and Dowdy did not return calls seeking comment on Friday, but several defense attorneys have expressed frustration about the lack of discovery provided by the prosecution. Each defense attorney recently signed a protective order ensuring that discovery would not be given to third parties, which appeared to open the door for the exchange of what Chun said was "35,000 pieces of evidence." That exchange might be delayed by the revelation of a potential conflict between Goria and the attorney representing former USD coach T.J. Brown.

Through his attorney, Goria alleged in court on Friday that Vikas Bajaj, who represented him on a prior case involving a debt owed to a Las Vegas casino, physically assaulted him approximately two years ago.

A hearing on the matter was scheduled for May 20, the same date that Battaglia is expected to set a trial date.

As for Friday's detention hearing, Battaglia denied Goria's request for bond. Goria, a 32-year-old who was born in Greece and has lived in San Diego since he was two, will remain in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego.

To support his argument for detention, prosecutor Chun had presented the criminal charges filed two days earlier in San Diego County Superior court in which Goria is alleged to have assisted in an armed robbery in December 2010.

According to court documents, Gates was also involved in that robbery. (A sheriffs' department spokesman told the San Diego Union-Tribune that masked intruders pistol-whipped a man, held a gun to his daughter's head, and shot his dog before leaving with jewelry and a large amount of cash.)

Summing up his ruling on Friday, Battaglia stated, "The community would not be safe with Mr. Goria out there."