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October 11, 2013

Prosecutor wants more cases against agents

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — A North Carolina prosecutor would like to see more enforcement of the state sports agent laws.

Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall is pursuing criminal cases against an agent and ex-UNC tutor and hopes other states follow in a broad attempt to curb improper agent conduct.

“The truth is, I think the institutions and the athletes, they may not realize it, but I think they really pay a price over time for this activity,” Woodall said. “And everybody allows it to go on. It’s just a wink and a nod.

“I think people’s attention needs to be brought to this. I mean, it is against the law.”

Georgia-based agent Terry Watson and former tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson are charged with providing cash and other benefits to three former Tar Heels football players. Watson faces 13 counts of “athlete-agent inducement” involving three current NFL players — Cleveland Browns receiver Greg Little, St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Marvin Austin — with nearly $24,000 in gifts in 2010 in an effort to sign them as well as an obstruction of justice charge. Thompson was charged with four counts of providing benefits to Little for that same year.

The state’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act requires agents to register with the Secretary of State’s office and prohibits offering gifts to entice athletes to sign representation contracts. Woodall has said more indictments are under seal.

Woodall believes it’s the first prosecution of its kind nationally. It certainly is a rare occurrence despite 41 states as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands having laws regulating sports agents.

Whether Woodall’s efforts lead to more legal action in other states remains to be seen.

David Ridpath, a former compliance officer at Marshall and Weber State, said the NCAA is overmatched when it comes to regulating agents. The NCAA lacks subpoena power and depends on cooperation from anyone else they investigate. That’s where states with agent laws come in, assuming authorities decide to pursue criminal charges against agents or runners.

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