First Posted: 10/4/2013
HILLSBOROUGH — A former UNC tutor who worked with Tar Heels football players has been charged with violating the state’s sports agent laws.
An unsealed indictment states that a grand jury indicted Jennifer Wiley Thompson with four counts of providing benefits to former UNC football player Greg Little to help Georgia-based agent Terry Watson to sign Little. Thompson was arrested Thursday morning and released on a $15,000 secured bond. She made her first court appearance Thursday afternoon and faces an Oct. 15 court hearing.
The charges come after more than three years of investigation by the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office.
“I think the message is it’s a violation of the law,” said Jim Woodall, the district attorney in Orange County where the university is located. “Although some people feel like it goes on everywhere — since everybody does it, it’s OK — that’s not the way it is. It’s not OK because it may go on everywhere. And when we have evidence it’s gone on here, we’re going to take action.”
Woodall declined to comment about potential additional indictments, saying only that there are other documents under seal. A.H. Jones, a special agent with the Secretary of State’s office whose name appeared on search warrants in the case, appeared before the grand jury Monday. A schedule for that day’s testimony listed five defendants, though all names were redacted, during Jones’ appearance.
Woodall said he believed the case marks the first time nationally someone has been prosecuted for violating sports agent laws in a state. Elliot Sol Abrams, one of Thompson’s attorneys who represented her during Thursday’s brief hearing, called it “new territory for everyone involved.”
“We will be doing a thorough investigation of the facts as they relate to the law, but at this point we find the charges factually and legally questionable,” Joseph B. Cheshire V, Thompson’s primary attorney, wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.
Watson didn’t immediately return a call Thursday from The Associated Press to his office in Marietta, Ga.
The grand jury said Thompson provided Little with airline tickets for himself and a friend. It also said she provided him $150 and received a package from Watson containing $2,000 in cash for Little, now with the Cleveland Browns, and “facilitated the delivery of that money,” according to the indictment.
The Secretary of State’s office launched its probe shortly after the NCAA started looking into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program. Thompson, now married, was connected to several academic violations in that probe and declined to speak with investigators in either investigation.
The state’s Uniform Athletes Agents Act requires agents to register with the Secretary of State’s office and is designed to shield athletes from sports agents who would offer gifts to entice them to sign representation contracts.
It is a Class I felony to violate the law, meaning a maximum prison sentence of 15 months, and violations also could carry civil penalties of up to $25,000. Prosecution of the law is left to district attorneys in the locations where violations are alleged to have occurred.
The initial focus of the probe was California-based NFL agent Gary Wichard, with investigators acting on a search warrant for Wichard’s financial records in March 2011 shortly before Wichard’s death later that month from diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Woodall said investigators began looking in a different direction from there and had been “very dogged, very determined to get to the bottom of this.”
Little told investigators that Watson provided him with more than $20,000 in cash and benefits in 2010, including that $2,000 package, according to a search warrant for Thompson’s financial records unsealed last month. In the affidavit attached to the search warrant, Jones said Little reimbursed Thompson for expenses paid on his behalf with money received from Watson or a financial adviser.
Little also told investigators he enlisted Thompson to help him in his agent search and that he met with agents at least three times in her residence, according to that affidavit.