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FOIA Lawsuit: The FBI's Investigation of a Crooked NBA Referee

Update: Here is some coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Post: https://nypost.com/2017/05/07/bobby-vs-company-sues-for-fbi-records-of-ex-nba-referee/

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Today I filed a lawsuit against the FBI on behalf of my client Makuhari Media.

Makuhari Media, headed by filmmaker Andrew Muscato (@ajmuscato) and former MLB manager Bobby Valentine, is a film production company whose sports documentaries have been viewed by millions worldwide (site). Their previous documentary "Schooled: The Price of College Sports" has been credited with spurring a movement among college athletes to organize against the NCAA's exploitative amateurism rules and their documentary "Doped: The Dirty Side of Sports" revealed corruption among anti-doping authorities in the United States and abroad.

The subject of the lawsuit is a 2007 illegal gambling scandal involving an NBA referee who was revealed to be betting on games. The referee in question, Tim Donaghy, almost single-handedly destroyed the credibility of the NBA.

Prior to accepting a plea deal, Donaghy made a number of outrageous claims about the NBA, alleging significant corruption among league officials. While it was never conclusively established whether Donaghy - or other referees - directly manipulated outcomes, Donaghy was involved in several infamous games in which officiating was widely criticized (including a controversial playoff series he officiated only a month before the FBI informed then-NBA Commissioner David Stern of their investigation). 

Unfortunately, due to his plea deal, Donaghy's claims were never publicly evaluated, although one of the agents in charge of his case, Philip Scala, vouched for his credibility.

In light of recent developments in sports wagering law (and the announcement of two pro sports teams relocating to Las Vegas), Makuhari was interested in revisiting the Donaghy scandal to determine just how susceptible to corruption the major sports leagues are. Seeking to resolve the major questions left unanswered by the FBI investigation, Makuhari submitted a FOIA request for Donaghy's file. In a typical display of agency shamelessness, the FBI insisted that they obtain a privacy waiver from Donaghy himself.

While it's touching that the FBI is concerned for the privacy of a man they put behind bars for 15 months, and who wrote an autobiography telling his side of the story, that excuse won't likely hold up in federal court. 

The case is Makuhari Media v. FBI, 1:17-cv-3081 in the Southern District of New York. Watch this space for updates (Update: the case has been moved to the Eastern District and is now captioned 1:17-cv-05363-RJD-RML).

 

Daniel NovackFOIA, FBIComment