HILLSBOROUGH — It took nearly three years, but Thursday morning, former UNC tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson, previously known as Jennifer Wiley, was indicted on four counts of athlete agent inducement.
The charges, all Class I felonies which carry a maximum sentence of 15 months in prison, are the first unsealed in a list of five indictments related to the UNC football scandal.
three years later, past transgressions linger in football scandal
Sparked by a tweet from former defensive tackle Marvin Austin, UNC football has been the subject of internal, NCAA and state probes.
- Throughout the investigation, one player was dismissed from the team, at least three were permanently ineligible and others suspended.
- In August 2010, UNC announced football players got improper academic help from a former tutor, later identified as Jennifer Wiley.
- The NCAA notified the University of nine different violations during this time.
- The NCAA imposed scholarship reductions and a one-year postseason ban.
- UNC fired former head coach Butch Davis in July 2011 and Athletic Director Dick Baddour announced later that month he would retire.
The indictment deems aspects of Thompson’s relationship with former UNC football player Greg Little illegal. Thompson encouraged Little, who is now with the Cleveland Browns, to enter into a contract with athlete agent Terry Watson of the Watson Sports Agency, according to the indictment.
“We’re sad that this is where we are and we just remind everyone that an indictment is not evidence of guilt,” said Elliot Abrams, one of Thompson’s attorneys, after her court appearance.
Thompson was arrested and charged with athlete agent inducement at 9:30 a.m. Thursday before being released on a $15,000 secured bond.
Thompson then appeared in front of a judge with Abrams shortly after 2 p.m. Because her primary attorney, Joseph Cheshire V, was out of town, Thompson appeared with only Abrams.
“This has been a long and sad road for Jennifer,” Abrams said. “She’s a wonderful person, she’s a caring person and she’ll continue to act with decency. She’ll maintain her dignity throughout this process.”
Though Abrams emphasized the importance of waiting to get all the facts, especially in an unfamiliar situation such as this one, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said the state is confident in its case.
“In my opinion as a prosecutor, we try to base everything on evidence,” Woodall said in an interview. “And we feel like there’s evidence to charge in these cases.”
Never been done
Thompson’s charges of athlete agent inducement are believed to be the first of the kind in the nation, Abrams and Woodall said.
“This is new territory for everyone involved,” Abrams said. “No one has ever been charged with this crime. So this is something that the district attorney’s office has to continue to look into, we have to continue to look into and we would ask that everyone keep an open mind until this matter is concluded in a court of law.”
Thompson’s charges stem from four violations of the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
According to the indictments, Thompson provided $579.50 for a round-trip airline ticket from Florida to North Carolina for Little, on or around May 23, 2010. Another indictment states she also provided Little’s friend Michael Johnson with an accompanying round-trip ticket for the same amount.
According to the indictment, Thompson gave Little $150 and facilitated delivery of $2,000 from Watson to Little. The $150 was for a flight change fee on a return trip from the Bahamas, according to a previously unsealed search warrant.
In all instances, Watson reimbursed Thompson.
The University responds
UNC reserved judgment on the news, making only a brief statement on the matter.
“As only one of the five indictments is known at this time, we will continue to monitor the developments of the case and support the work of the Secretary of State’s Office,” said Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham in a statement.
Specifics of Thompson’s involvement with Little and Watson were revealed Sept. 5 when a newly unsealed search warrant of Thompson’s financial statements showed she was instrumental in developing a relationship between the wide receiver and athlete agent. Thompson assisted Little in arranging the first meeting between Little and Watson, and hosted the meeting at her Chapel Hill home.
The unsealed search warrant also revealed Thompson paid for Little’s UNC parking tickets totaling $1,789, and that Watson had given Little more than $20,000.
It began as a tweet
Thursday’s indictment of Thompson is the latest installment in a long-term investigation of members of the North Carolina football team and various agents.
What began as a tweet from Marvin Austin exposing improper benefits at a Miami nightclub spiraled into the dismantling of an athlete-agent-riddled football program, culminating in nine major NCAA violations, permanent ineligibility of at least three UNC football players with suspensions of many more, loss of scholarships and the eventual firing of coach Butch Davis.
Little and teammate Robert Quinn were deemed ineligible by the NCAA, and Austin was dismissed from the program in October 2010.
Woodall said the investigation has lasted three years due to a series of obstacles including the NCAA’s investigation and the 2011 death of the state’s primary suspect, agent Gary Wichard.
“The Secretary of State did a good job of pursuing this because one of the people they looked at originally passed away unfortunately, well over a year ago,” he said. “They were well into this investigation when that person passed away.
“They had to go in a different direction and I think they’ve been very dogged, very determined to get to the bottom of this, and now it’s going to move into the courts system.”
Thompson is set to appear in Superior Court on Oct. 15, though Woodall said that date is likely to be pushed back to give Thompson’s attorneys time to sift through a large volume of new material presented in the state’s discovery.
The Secretary of State’s actions illustrate its intolerance of misdeeds in college athletics, Woodall said.
“I think the message is that it’s a violation of the law, even though some people feel like it goes on everywhere since everybody does it, it’s OK,” Woodall said. “It’s not the way it is. It’s not OK because it may go on everywhere.
“And when we have evidence that it’s gone on here, we’re going to take action.”
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