Local News

SBI, Orange DA laid groundwork for UNC investigation

Posted October 24, 2014 6:21 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2014 6:25 p.m. EDT

— Long before former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein started digging into allegations of student-athletes steered to bogus classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, criminal investigators paved the way.

Wainstein's 131-page report, issued Wednesday, found academic counselors steered student-athletes for 18 years to "irregular" classes within UNC-Chapel Hill's Department of African and Afro-American Studies that had no faculty involvement and never met.

The fraud lasted until 2011 and involved 169 athletes whose grades in such classes kept them eligible to compete.

Blane Hicks, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, first interviewed Deborah Crowder, the manager for the African studies department who concocted the no-show classes scheme to help struggling athletes by handing out good grades despite no class work and papers that were often plagiarized.

"Her statement was a self-justification," Hicks said when asked whether Crowder expressed remorse for her actions. "She was stressed."

He said he believes the SBI and Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall played a critical role in Wainstein's investigation.

Woodall provided the legal leverage that pushed Crowder and former department Chairman Julius Nyang'oro to cooperate and sort out much of the collusion, Hicks said.

"This is a corruption case," he said. "Some of it may not be obviously criminal, but it was bad."

Nyang'oro was indicted on a fraud charge for accepting payment for teaching one of the sham classes, but Woodall dropped the charge once Nyang'oro started cooperating with Wainstein's investigation.

Former UNC football coach Butch Davis, who was fired in 2011 as academic fraud questions and allegations about player ties to agents swirled, never knew about the no-show classes, according to his attorney, Jon Sasser.

Sasser said Friday that Davis doesn't remember a PowerPoint presentation from team academic advisers that laid out classes where players didn't have to take notes, stay awake – or even show up.

"This is talking about something that was over with," Sasser said of the presentation, contending that Davis focused instead on an academic game plan that involved legitimate class time.