Seminole Shame

Arrests and charges of illicit loans and phony jobs rock Florida State anew
June 05, 1994

As embarrassment piles on embarrassment for Florida State's national-championship football team, Seminole coach Bobby Bowden remains largely up-beat. Yes, the scandal surrounding Bowden's program has cast a lengthening shadow over last season's title. Yes, the university has hired an outside law firm to investigate possible violations and report any that are found to the NCAA. Yes, Bowden is chagrined by the revelations so far. Nevertheless, speaking to a reporter the other day, Bowden implied that the misdeeds of his players were a series of random acts over which administrators and coaches had no control. "We'll discipline those who have violated the rules, then we'll go on right about our business of defending our national championship," Bowden said. "The good thing is, Florida State University has nothing to do with this."

But with each passing day it's getting harder for Bowden and other Seminole officials to distance themselves from a mess that has reached staggering proportions. In the wake of a May 16 SI story detailing gifts of cash and merchandise that agents lavished on seven Seminole players during the 1993 season, including apparel purchased in a $6,000 shopping spree at the Foot Locker store in Tallahassee's Governor's Square Mall on Nov. 7, the Seminole program was sent reeling by a succession of other disturbing developments. These include a plea of no contest to a criminal charge by one Florida State athlete, allegations that two others committed sexual offenses and news reports of activities by individuals connected to Seminole athletic programs that pointed to violations of NCAA rules.

On top of all that, SI has uncovered evidence of still other wrongdoing involving Florida Stale athletes:

•Dianna Cortes, a former employee of the Mandarin Veterinary Clinic near Jacksonville told SI that at least two former Florida State stars who are now playing in the NFL, Green Bay Packer safety LeRoy Butler and Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver Lawrence Dawsey, received money for no-show summer jobs at the clinic while they were playing for the Seminoles. Cortes says the money was paid by Rick Blankenship, a Seminole booster—he is listed in Florida State game programs as a Golden Chief—who owns the clinic where his wife, Kandra Jones, is the director of veterinary medicine. Cortes, who was a technician at the clinic from mid-1989 until last December, says that at Blankenship's direction she took envelopes that she understood contained paychecks to Butler and Dawsey at a guest house at Blankenship's home, where each player stayed for a summer while they attended Florida State in the late '80s and early '90s. Cortes adds that running back Edgar Bennett, who is also with the Packers, stayed at the guest house too. Cortes says that Dawsey told her the envelopes contained "my money, my check," and that "I asked Lawrence, 'What [job] did you do?" He said, 'Don't worry about it.' "

Cortes also says she asked Blankenship, " 'Rick, you're giving players checks and gifts, and they don't even work there—isn't that illegal?' And he said to me, 'Don't say anything, because if you do, I guarantee you won't get a job here in Jacksonville ever again.' "

College athletes may accept summer employment but are prohibited from receiving special benefits—excessive pay, free housing and the like. In an interview with SI, Blankenship at first said that in recent years he had given "four or five" Seminole players summer jobs at the clinic, where they "did what everyone else did." But Cortes and six other former employees—Kim Haddad, Steve Lichtfuss, Cindy Milliken and three others who would not allow their names to be used—whose employment at the clinic spanned a period from 1987 to early this year, said they were certain that no Seminole football player showed up for work at the clinic. Told that his former employees had contradicted him, Blankenship changed his story and said that the players had not worked at the clinic but had performed unspecified jobs at other properties he owns.

Dawsey and Bennett did not return phone calls. Butler did speak to SI and said he had never worked for Blankenship in any capacity. Indeed, the only Seminole that any of SI's seven sources remember as having done work for Blankenship was former offensive tackle Marvin Ferrell, who has admitted receiving free clothes in the Foot Locker expedition. Lichtfuss says that both Blankenship and Jones told him that Ferrell was paid $100 for washing Blankenship's Jeep, a payment that, because it appears to have been overly generous, would also be a likely NCAA violation. Lichtfuss says of the payment to Ferrell, "I remember thinking we [clinic employees] wouldn't mind washing his Jeep." Ferrell did not return calls either.

•Doug Andreaus, a Florida State graduate who became a sports agent last June when he landed Tamarick Vanover, a star sophomore wide receiver on last year's Seminole team, as a client—his only one, as it turned out—told SI that last summer he helped arrange $23,000 in loans to Vanover's mother, Katherine Pondexter. Andreaus says he obtained the money from a group of Tallahassee residents and that he subsequently gave various sums of his own money to a friend of Vanover's, Clay Dickey, and lent Dickey $1,500.

Andreaus was interning for Golden Bear International, Jack Nicklaus's management company in West Palm Beach. Fla., when he approached Vanover, but he says he went off on his own after Vanover agreed to be his client. Andreaus says he arranged the loan to Pondexter after Dickey told him, "Tamarick's mother needs money. She's $12,000 in debt, she doesn't have money to buy her other kids clothes, so they can't go to school, she can't buy food, and she needs to move to a better apartment because rats crawl over her while she's trying to sleep. This makes her so tired she can't work." Andreaus says that Vanover voiced a similar appeal to him at Florida State's athletic dorm, Burt Reynolds Hall, crying as he told of his mother's supposed plight.

But Andreaus says that a week after the first of the loans to Pondexter he heard that Vanover was driving a black, late-model Volkswagen. He also saw Vanover's brother, Frank, wearing an expensive designer shirt. Andreaus says that after he confronted Tamarick about these displays of affluence, the player said that his mother had given him money and that she would be "coming over in a few minutes to give me some more money."

Even if the money had been used only by Pondexter, the loans described by Andreaus would almost certainly be a violation under NCAA rules, which ban payment of benefits to an athlete's relatives or friends that are not routinely available to the relatives or friends of nonathletes. Besides, Andreaus says that while he arranged the loans as a humanitarian gesture, he also did so to curry favor with Vanover and thereby keep him as a client. All of which suggests that under NCAA rules, Vanover, who had been an All-America kick returner as a freshman, should have been ineligible for the 1993 season.

Vanover, Pondexter and Dickey not only deny that they received loans from Andreaus but also go so far as to say that they don't know him. "Doug Andreaus?" Vanover said last week. "Andreaus? No, never heard of him. Sorry." These denials appear to be preposterous since 1) SI has seen loan agreements between Andreaus and Pondexter that were witnessed by Dickey, including three contracts for $5,000 each, two for $2,500 each and others for lesser amounts; 2) Andreaus sued Dickey for $1,000—the unpaid balance of the $1,500 loan—and won a judgment last month in a Tallahassee court following proceedings in which Vanover accepted a subpoena on Dickey's behalf and in which Andreaus and Dickey faced each other in court as plaintiff and defendant; and 3) Vanover has been seen in the company of Andreaus.

Even without the accusations about no-show jobs and improper loans, Florida State had more bad news than it could handle. On May 16 sophomore placekicker Scott Bentley pleaded no contest to charges that he illegally tape-recorded an act of sexual intercourse between him and a Florida A&M prenursing student without her consent; Bentley, who played the recording for friends, was fined $500 and sentenced to 40 hours on a road crew.

The next day sophomore reserve tight end Kamari Charlton was arrested and charged with committing sexual battery against a female acquaintance; Charlton is free on bond pending arraignment.

On May 21 running back Sean Jackson, the Seminoles' leading rusher last season and one of the players identified by SI's sources as having taken cash and gifts from agents, was arrested on a charge, which he denies, that he exposed himself to a woman as he walked across the Florida State campus.

Bowden suspended Bentley and Charlton indefinitely; Jackson has exhausted his eligibility at Florida State and was the Houston Oilers' fourth-round pick in April's NFL draft.

And there was more: Last Friday the St. Petersburg Times reported that Mathew Clark, the stepfather of former Seminole defensive back Corey Sawyer, who has acknowledged participating in the Foot Locker trip, struck a Times reporter, David Barstow, with a fist and a wooden post when Barstow tried to ask him questions about a 1994 Nissan Pathfinder that Sawyer may have purchased shortly before Florida State's 18-16 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska on New Year's Day. Clark told police that Barstow was harassing him and his family.

While players' personal behavior may be difficult to police, the epidemic of apparent NCAA violations at Florida State urgently raises the question: Why hasn't the school's administration been more vigilant in rooting out abuses? School officials do appear to have been diligent in regard to at least one possible infraction involving Vanover. Last week, responding to a freedom-of-information request by The Florida Times-Union, the university made still more news by releasing papers indicating that it learned in late January that Vanover had flown to California two weeks earlier to meet with agents and that Dickey had told school officials that he had paid for Vanover's $700 roundtrip airfare and that Vanover had flown under an assumed name to protect his identity. Vanover may have violated NCAA rules by accepting the plane ticket, but the issue became moot when he signed a contract with the Las Vegas Posse of the Canadian Football League in February. There is reason to believe that the school's findings regarding the California trip hastened his departure.

But to other damaging disclosures Seminole officials react with an air of helplessness. For example, they continue to maintain that they heard of the Foot Locker spree only when two SI reporters questioned them on May 5. But, as SI reported in its May 16 story, in January a Tallahassee woman with ties to the agents who arranged the Foot Locker trip, Meirley Lockhart, told then Seminole assistant coach John Eason about the shopping spree and cash payments to players. In addition, Andreaus told SI last week that he and two other people called Florida State compliance officer Brian Maud to tell him about a shopping binge with an agent even earlier, soon after it occurred. And how did they know? Because, says Andreaus, the word was all over Tallahassee: "Even my friends knew about Foot Locker, and they don't even care about football." On this, he and Vanover have finally found a point of agreement; Vanover told SI that the trip quickly became common knowledge even among players who, like him, hadn't participated.

Mand declined to speak with SI last week, but in earlier interviews he, Bowden and other Seminole officials told the magazine that they had been inundated with tips and rumors about alleged rules violations, much of the information vague, much of it coming from people with axes to grind. Of course, that defense hardly dispels the notion that Florida State's program is rife with wrongdoing.

Moreover, by early this spring rumors of improprieties involving Seminole players were so rampant that athletes were being pitted against athletes. In one particularly ugly confrontation in April, Vanover, Dickey, Seminole senior defensive back Corey Fuller and two other men showed up at Andreaus's Tallahassee apartment at 1 a.m. to clear up questions about the source of rumors that Fuller had breached various NCAA rules. As both Andreaus and Fuller recount the incident, Andreaus told Fuller about the rumors and said that Dickey was responsible for spreading them. According to Andreaus, Vanover had a pistol tucked conspicuously in his waistband, and Dickey hollered at Andreaus, "You're through. You're through." Says Andreaus, "I wasn't sure what that meant, but I thought I might be." However, when Andreaus stuck to his story that Vanover's pal Dickey was the source of the rumors. Fuller believed him, and the group left the apartment. A shouting match then broke out between Vanover and Fuller in the parking lot. Andreaus, who watched from a hallway outside his apartment, says that Vanover pulled his gun on Fuller. But Fuller says, "He didn't have the gun out, and he didn't threaten me directly. It was more like two brothers arguing." If nothing else, the incident comes as further proof that Vanover and Dickey had a pretty good idea who Andreaus was.

Mand has acted on some of the rumors swirling around the Seminole program but not always in a way that might be expected of a compliance officer. Andreaus told SI that he received a phone call two weeks ago from Fuller. Andreaus says that Fuller was calling from Mand's office, and that Fuller angrily accused Andreaus of having bad-mouthed Florida State players. Andreaus says that Mand was present as Fuller said over a speaker-phone that "he was going to come to where I work and kick my ass." Fuller confirms that a phone conversation took place in Mand's office, although he says that he did not threaten Andreaus. But Andreaus says, "It pissed me off that a player would threaten me, and that the compliance director would sit there and do nothing."

But Mand did do something. According to both Fuller and Andreaus, Mand also addressed Andreaus over the speakerphone. He was curious about one thing. SI was back in Tallahassee, asking more questions about the Florida State football program, and Mand asked Andreaus, "Did you meet with [SI senior writer] Doug Looney?"

In fact, Seminole officials have often seemed more interested in finding out what the press might report about the school than in curbing NCAA violations, and they often exhibit remarkable knowledge about the movements of reporters who are writing about the Seminoles. "You have to understand that Tallahassee is a small town," says Florida State publicist Wayne Hogan by way of explanation. "Everybody knows everything."

Except, of course, when it comes to things that Florida State "has nothing to do with."

PHOTOAL TIELEMANSVanover (left) got money from an agent, Bentley was busted, and a vet's husband was accused. PHOTOWILLIAM R. SALLAZ/DUOMO[See caption above.] PHOTOBEN VAN HOOK[See caption above.] PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERJackson piled up big gains in '93, but his arrest for indecent exposure set Florida State back. PHOTOPHIL SEARSAndreaus says he arranged loans out of compassion but also to curry favor with Vanover, his only client.

"Bowden implied that the misdeeds were random acts over which school administrators and coaches had no control."

"The Seminoles suspended Bentley and Charlton but not Jackson, who, no longer eligible, was drafted by Houston."

"According to Andreaus, Vanover had a pistol tucked in his waistband, and Dickey hollered, 'You're through. You're through.' "

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