While it's good for the school and the conference that Auburn won the national championship, I feel like we need to have a talk. You know, the talk. The one about where the investigation into Cam Newton's recruitment currently stands and why it's not going to go away for a long while.
Officially, things are largely as they were back in the first week of December. The NCAA ruled that Cecil Newton asked for money from Mississippi State without Cam Newton's knowledge. It also had no evidence that any of the Newtons received any impermissible benefits from anyone at Auburn. Cam was declared ineligible and then reinstated about a day later.
Only one development has become public since then, as far as I can tell. It's that during the week before Christmas, the NCAA interviewed two contractors who did work on Cecil Newton's church to find out if they were asked to funnel money to the Newtons. That may not seem like much, but the report gives off several clear indicators.
- The NCAA investigation is very much alive, as those interviews came weeks after Cam Newton's reinstatement.
- Even though Cecil Newton turned over financial records for his family and the church, the NCAA is still looking for evidence of impermissible benefits surrounding the family and the church.
- A member of the media, in this case FoxSports.com's Thayer Evans, is still digging into the case, as he found the names of those contractors and called them up for information.
Evans is not alone. Writers for the New York Times published several stories over the past week that either were critical of or took a negative tone with Auburn. Some ESPN personalities, particularly Robert Smith, hinted in their post game coverage that big news is coming soon in the case. You'll recall that ESPN and the Times broke the original story about the Newton investigation, while Evans participated as well with his legally questionable report about Newton's alleged cheating while at Florida.
That's the surface of the story today, but it could go deeper than that. If you want to delve into the world of speculation (which I've carefully curated to keep out as much BS as possible), follow me after the jump. There are more sketchy stories surrounding Auburn University than just the Newton case alone.
IF MORE EVIDENCE IS COMING, WHERE IS IT COMING FROM?
If Smith wasn't just mugging for the cameras with his hinting, this new evidence in the case has to come from somewhere. The NCAA doesn't release information surrounding ongoing investigations, nor does the FBI (which is on this case too, don't forget).
If Auburn was running some kind of pay-for-play scheme—and remember, this is still an if—there are two likely sources for evidence on it.
Currently, there is a large scandal going on in the state of Alabama surrounding a vote buying scheme on legalizing video bingo machines at casinos. Eleven people have been indicted, including casino owners (accused of financing bribes), lobbyists (accused of doing the bribing), and state legislators (accused of taking the bribes).
One of the casino owners is Milton McGregor, a big time Auburn booster. His phones were wiretapped for a considerable amount of time as the FBI built its case in the bingo investigation. Naturally, that has led to speculation that pay-for-play details were included on those tapes. McGregor's lawyer has said that's not the case, however, and has denied that his client has ever paid recruits.
One of the lobbyists, Jarrod Massey, struck a deal with the feds back in December to reduce his charges in exchange for testimony. Other defendants asked for transcripts of that testimony as a part of discovery for the case, but the government only supplied partially redacted transcripts. The rationale is that the redacted sections contain information unrelated to the current bingo indictments, and that they pertain to a separate, ongoing investigation that might be compromised by the release of the information to anyone.
Again, there is much speculation out there as to what that other investigation is. No one knows for sure what it covers except for the investigators and prosecutors, however. The government has agreed to hand over the full transcripts by January 31, so unless it asks for and is granted an extension, we'll probably know what the other investigation is by the end of the month based on further indictments and arrests. That other investigation could be a source of further clues in the Newton case. Operative words: could be.
The trial date for the Bingogate defendants who haven't struck deals is April 4.
COLLAPSE OF COLONIAL BANK
If you're familiar with Auburn's athletics programs at all, you've heard the name Bobby Lowder. He's a big time booster who's been on the university's board of trustees almost nonstop since the early '80s. He had a hand in Jetgate, Auburn's SACS probation, and the firing of Pat Dye after the pay-for-play scandal at Auburn in the early '90s.
Lowder's main source of power and influence in the state stemmed from him running Colonial Bancgroup, the parent company of Colonial Bank. Colonial was the largest bank failure of 2009, as the FDIC seized its assets when it failed to secure enough private funding to qualify for TARP money. The government has reaped a harvest of literally millions of documents from the bank's closing and a raid on one of its facilities shortly before the closing.
Those documents are the other prime spot for potential new evidence in the Newton case. If something financially fishy went on with Auburn recruiting, it's entirely possible that Lowder's Colonial Bank was a part of it. We already know that improper dealings were going on in Colonial because the government has indicted the CEO of a now-defunct mortgage company in Florida in a massive fraud case involving the bank.
The catch is that it takes a long time for forensic accountants to wade through millions of documents. Plus, the primary goal of those accountants is likely to recover some of the $2 billion that the FDIC paid out in Colonial's closing. Other matters might be on the back burner for now.
SO WHAT NOW?
It's all watching and waiting at this point. Bingogate and the Colonial Bank investigation are only possible sources of new information on the Newton case, not guaranteed sources. And because the FBI is conducting those cases, the NCAA probably won't get any information until we do because the FBI couldn't give a rip about NCAA bylaws.
All of which is to say, this Newton case has the potential to hang over the sport for years as the NCAA waits for the outcome of these federal investigations. Because McGregor and especially Lowder are so tied into the university, it would make no sense for the NCAA to close the Newton case until after those federal cases are done. It had no issue with taking about four-and-a-half years on the Reggie Bush case, after all.
There are many more theories out there, but I'm not going to put them here. I don't consider any of them strong enough to post here yet. There is smoke out there if you wish to find it (see these posts from Roll Bama Roll, for instance), however, I'd rather err on the side of saying too little than too much. I don't want to mislead anyone here.
The information flow on the Newton case will probably continue to be slow, but until the NCAA pronounces it done, it's not over. For now, those January 31 and April 4 dates are the ones to watch. Beyond that, it's all a matter of what ESPN, the NYT, and Evans can find. We're in for a long wait with this one, I'm afraid.