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The Fix Was In

Nov. 09, 1998
Nov. 09, 1998

Table of Contents
Nov. 9, 1998

Miscellany
  • 7 Days 78
    Compiled by Cameron Morfit and Jeff Pearlman

    While you were transfixed by the NFL, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR, you probably missed some of the weird and wondrous things that go on each week in the world of sports. Here are a few items from wire services and local papers that might have slipped under your radar.

The Fix Was In

When Kevin Pendergast arrived at Notre Dame to study and play
soccer in 1989, he was a suburban kid from well-to-do Simsbury,
Conn., who thought over and under were just prepositions. He was
a Parade High School All-America forward in his sport, a
National Merit Scholarship finalist and an aspiring singer. The
future lay bright before him.

This is an article from the Nov. 9, 1998 issue Original Layout

Then he met a bookie while visiting a classmate's home in
Indiana. Soon, Pendergast says, "gambling became the center of
my life." He bet on sports and played $25 and $50 hands of
blackjack at a riverboat casino. His betting tapered off in his
junior year after he earned a spot on the football team as a
placekicker, but he squeezed in action at the casino.

When Dion Lee arrived at Northwestern on a basketball
scholarship in 1991, he knew plenty about gambling. It had been
a part of his life in the projects of Louisville, where he
played card and dice games and wagered on playground basketball.
"We'd play five-on-five for $20, sometimes $100 a head," Lee
says. "Northwestern was my chance to get away from the projects,
the gambling and all of that." But then, like Pendergast, Lee
met a bookie. His losses from sports betting piled up; in
November '94 his mother traveled from Louisville to Evanston,
Ill., with $2,000 to pay his debts. A month later Lee was one of
two athletes caught in a university probe into campus gambling,
and he was suspended for six games. A few weeks after his
suspension ended, he met Pendergast--by now living in Chicago
and working as a bartender and rock musician--through a mutual
friend.

Deep in debt from betting, Pendergast saw Lee as a way out.
Working with a couple of other gamblers, the unlikely pair
schemed to shave points in three games. Pendergast was to place
the wagers, and Lee, a 6'5" shooting guard, was to recruit
another player (he chose starting center-forward Dewey Williams)
to make sure Northwestern lost by more than the spread. "Why did
we do it?" Pendergast wonders. "I knew it was against the law,
but I didn't think I had a lot to lose." Says Lee, "I ended up
right back in what I wanted to leave behind."

It was dumb, and it was doomed. Only one of their shaving
attempts succeeded. The first, in a Feb. 15, 1995, game against
Wisconsin, ended in a push when Northwestern's 14-point losing
margin equaled the spread. A week later, Lee and the Wildcats
lost to Penn State 89-59, falling far short of the 14-point
spread. Three days after that Pendergast met Lee at a restaurant
near campus and handed him an envelope containing Lee's share of
the winnings--$4,000, from which Lee paid Williams approximately
$700.

On March 1 Pendergast and Lee tried again. If Lee could make
sure the Wildcats lost by more than 25 1/2 to Michigan,
Pendergast would pay him $8,000. Although Lee kept passing up
shots and throwing the ball away, Northwestern lost by 17. "That
was my last wager," says Pendergast, who admits having lost at
least $40,000 on the shaved games. "It was the best thing that
happened."

Pendergast and Lee's scheme was uncovered by a federal
investigation, and they pleaded guilty last April to conspiracy
to commit sports bribery, as did Williams in June. They all face
possible jail time. (Sources close to the probe say that six to
12 members of the 1994 Northwestern football team could be
indicted soon for sports gambling and perhaps trying to shave
points.) As part of their plea agreements Pendergast and Lee
tell their stories as cautionary tales to groups of college
athletes, coaches and administrators. Both are working to put
their lives in order. "I know I'll always be a compulsive
gambler," Pendergast says. "I'm trying each day to do the right
thing."

--Lester Munson

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL Odd couple Lee hatched the plan with erstwhile Notre Dame kicker Pendergast (12). [Dion Lee with basketball in game]COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [See caption above--Kevin Pendergast in football game]
"Northwestern was my chance to get away from the projects, the
gambling and all of that," says Lee, whose betting led to point
shaving.