March 06, 2013

One of the investigators who worked the NCAA's inquiry of Miami athletics wrote a letter on former booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro's behalf just days before he was sentenced two years ago.

In the same letter, dated June 3, 2011, Ameen Najjar even suggested that the NCAA could eventually hire Shapiro.

Najjar, who is no longer with the NCAA, told U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton that college sports' governing body could have utilized Shapiro "in the future as a consultant and/or speaker to educate our membership."

Najjar also said that Shapiro assisted the NCAA with investigations involving a number of schools. Najjar did not specify the schools - not even Miami, where Shapiro is the central figure in the scandal that has dogged the Hurricanes' athletic department for at least two years.

"Throughout the course of our interactions, it is my belief that Mr. Shapiro possesses a unique depth of knowledge and experience concerning representatives athletics interest ('Boosters'), agents and the provision of extra-benefits to student-athletes," Najjar wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Najjar left the NCAA last year and attempts by the AP to reach him in recent weeks have been unsuccessful. The NCAA did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Najjar's was just one of a number of letters written to the court on Shapiro's behalf before sentencing, none of which appeared to sway Wigenton. Four days after the date of Najjar's letter, the judge gave Shapiro a longer sentence than prosecutors asked for on the securities fraud and money laundering counts he admitted to in a plea agreement in September 2010.

She also ordered him to pay more than $82 million in restitution to his victims.

Najjar wrote to Wigenton using NCAA letterhead, and did so when he had the title of director of enforcement. His role in missteps that the NCAA made during the investigation was detailed last month, when a probe that NCAA President Mark Emmert ordered found, among other things, that Najjar appeared to manipulate the investigation by hiring Shapiro's attorney, Maria Elena Perez, and having her use subpoena power to interview people related to the Miami case.

The NCAA does not have subpoena power. Two people were subpoenaed and deposed as part of Shapiro's bankruptcy case, though some of the information gleaned in those interviews was being used in the NCAA's case against Miami.

The NCAA said it was removing that ill-gotten information from the notice of allegations, which Miami was presented with last month and included the charge that the Hurricanes had a "lack of institutional control" when it came to monitoring Shapiro's access to the athletic department.

Perez, in a letter to the Florida Bar dated Feb. 21, said she "is not and has never acted, in the capacity of an attorney for the NCAA." She billed the NCAA for about $57,000 for work she performed related to the investigation, and records show she received about one-third that amount.

Perez told the AP last month that "had I realized I was dealing with, what is in my opinion ... such an incompetent regulatory institution, I would have never allowed Mr. Shapiro to have had any type of contact with the NCAA - period."

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