Former Westchester Community College men's basketball coach Tyrone Mushatt was arrested Thursday morning and charged with orchestrating a grade-fixing scheme to aid players trying to transfer to several top Division I NCAA programs across the country, including St. John's University.
Citing the findings of a six-month investigation conducted by the New York State Inspector General's Office, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore charged Mushatt, 41, with sending nine forged WCC transcripts to seven different colleges and universities from May 2012 to October 2014.
Mushatt faces nine felony counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, each of which is punishable by up to seven years in state prison.
“As the complaint alleges, by altering basketball player’s grades on official transcripts, this defendant, whose primary focus as a coach should have been on the best interests and education of the students, totally abdicated that responsibility," said DiFiore in a press release. "As a result, the academic integrity of the College as a whole and of other team members is brought into question, making the degree that others worked hard to achieve, look less valuable.”
The complaint alleges that Mushatt sent doctored transcripts to St. John’s University, Florida A&M University, Concordia College, Quinnipiac University, Wilmington University, Long Island University and Farmingdale State College, and notes that in several cases, the players did not otherwise have sufficient credits or grades to be eligible for transfer.
The Journal News first reported on the phony transcripts last October, and several of WCC's former star players have already been ensnared in the burgeoning scandal and ruled ineligible. St. John's dismissed Keith Thomas from the team after reviewing his transcript. Jamell Walker and Damien Davis lost their scholarships at Florida A&M. Quinnipiac suspended Giovanni McLean.
Mushatt’s attorney, John Pappalardo, denied the allegations and accused Mushatt’s former assistant, Richard Fields, of forging the transcripts.
“My client’s only involvement was making the school aware that [Fields] was forging transcripts,” said Pappalardo. “[Mushatt] has helped countless young men from deprived neighborhoods, he has the support of the community and his players, and he is being cooperative with the investigation.”
WCC initially denied Mushatt's involvement and fired Fields, his assistant, claiming that he admitted to being responsible for the forgeries, but a source close to the investigation told Sports Illustrated that investigators believe Fields was not involved in any wrongdoing. Fields has since sued the school for slander.
When reached for a statement, WCC spokesman Patrick Hennessey declined to comment on whether the school still holds Fields responsible for the forgeries and instead issued a prepared statement.
“Westchester Community College affirms its commitment to the highest standards of academic integrity. We have fully cooperated with the investigation and express our appreciation to the District Attorney’s office for its thoroughness in this matter. In September, the college brought on board a new athletic director, Michael Belfiore, who brings more than a decade of experience leading programs for scholar athletes in collegiate and national athletic association roles. His leadership has already begun to shape the future direction of the basketball teams and all of our athletic programs with an emphasis on student success.”
In July, WCC suspended its 2014-15 men's basketball season after news of the scandal broke and cancelled its 2015-16 men's and women's basketball seasons in July amid the ongoing investigation, citing the need to "revamp the entire basketball program."
Mushatt was arraigned and released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court on Dec. 10.