Roberto Torres, the former chief financial officer for Shapiro's Capitol Investments, was deposed last month in a civil case related to the wide-ranging bankruptcy proceedings. During the deposition, Torres said he witnessed Shapiro throwing lavish parties in the mid-2000s on his yacht involving then-current and prospective Hurricane athletes.
The depositions taken April 11-12 in a New Jersey prison could benefit the NCAA's case against UM. The NCAA previously threw out significant evidence because it was gathered improperly by investigators. Torres, who's serving a four-year prison sentence for his involvement in Shapiro's $930 million Ponzi scheme, didn't mention specific athletes in his deposition.
But Torres said he "saw them on the boat" when he was asked how he knew the 69-foot yacht was used by Miami recruits and athletes.
His sworn testimony is part of a civil case brought by Shapiro's bankruptcy trustee against the law firm of Shook, Hardy and Bacon as well as one of its lawyers. The suit, filed Dec. 17, 2012, claims attorney Marc Levinson not only knew Shapiro was defrauding investors while violating state law and NCAA rules, but he assisted in the enterprise.
The suit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claims Levinson and the firm knowingly entered into a business relationship with Shapiro that violated Florida state laws. Shapiro retained Shook, Hardy and Bacon to help purchase a part of Axcess Sports and Entertainment agency with the hope of capitalizing on his relationships with UM athletes, the suit claims.
Levinson's negligence and failure to provide sound legal advice also led to further damage for Shapiro's investors, the suit claims. Torres' testimony also places Levinson, a childhood friend of Shapiro's, on the yacht at the time of the parties involving UM athletes and recruits.
"There were lots of photos that were taken on the yacht," said Torres, who is currently serving his prison sentence in Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution. "So I would see that."
The boat was originally purchased as a money-making venture. But Torres could only remember it being chartered once for $3,600 a day. Mostly, it was a party boat with friends — including UM athletes — using it without making payments, Torres said in the deposition.
Torres also overheard conversations between Shapiro and Levinson in 2004 and 2005 indicating knowledge they were violating NCAA rules.
"They spoke in front of me about there was — there were liabilities if the athletes received benefits from Mr. Shapiro because Mr. Shapiro was a booster there because he had the other relationship with UM, with contributions he was making to the university," Torres said in the deposition.
Exactly what this means in the two-year NCAA saga remains to be seen.
Stuart Brown, an Indianapolis attorney specializing in NCAA compliance matters, said new evidence is commonly brought to Committee on Infractions hearings. Miami received its official Notice of Allegations in February and is reportedly scheduled to have its infractions hearing in mid-June.
But, without names of specific athletes or recruits, could this new testimony make difference?
"Theoretically, the answer to that is yes, which depends upon the content of the new testimony," said Brown of the Ice Miller firm. "But certainly, the enforcement staff could argue that this is independently-gained testimony and it corroborates other independent sources such as Shapiro himself."
Large sections of evidence in the NCAA case believed reiterate Shapiro's claims of flagrant NCAA rule violations were thrown out by the college sports organization prior to UM receiving its notice of allegations. Depositions of Axcess Sports owner Michael Huyghue and former UM employee and Shapiro associate Sean Allen from earlier bankruptcy proceedings were tossed when the NCAA determined investigators improperly worked with Shapiro attorneys to collect the testimony.
Though Torres' testimony could be used against UM, school attorneys will have the opportunity to contest the claims of the convicted felon.
"The institution or involved parties can make their own analysis about the credibility of these witnesses or witness, the credibility of the information," Brown said. "That's the kind of analysis and standard argument that the Committee on Infractions considers in most cases because in most cases, there are varying opinions or interpretations of what somebody said, or what somebody did or how reliable somebody is. So, that would not be an unusual process."
The secretive nature of this case presents another scenario, however.
UM, though taking an aggressive strategy to avoid further penalty, has already admitted it wasn't completely innocent in the Shapiro matter. Since the private institution has not released the full Notice of Allegations, it's unclear if any new testimony would be considered particularly damaging.
"But if the new information seems to support events that the university previously disputed," Brown said. "It not only impacts the analysis of the particular events, but it may also bolster Shapiro's credibility on other, broader issues."
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