FBI Supervisory Special Agent Phil Scala reviewed every game former professional basketball referee Tim Donaghy officiated in his 13 seasons working for the NBA. Scala said Donaghy was one of the best referees in the league, and in reviewing the tapes, he found there were no calls made outside of the realm of what would be deemed acceptable.
Donaghy maintains this truth today, after 15 months in jail.
During what is known as the NBA betting scandal of 2007, Donaghy used his position as a referee to gather information about relationships between players, coaches, referees and owners to then bet on professional games. This scandal involved two childhood friends, Jimmy Battista, the gambler, and Tommy Martino, the go-between, who carried the money and information between Donaghy and Battista.
“If I thought we were going to get caught, then I’d like to think I wouldn’t have ever done it,” Donaghy said.
The film Inside Game, which documents the involvement of Donaghy, Martino and Battista in the betting scandal in 2006 and 2007, was shown for its first viewing in Zoellner Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 8, followed by a question-and-answer panel. The film is scheduled to be released on Friday, Nov. 1.
The panel was the first time Donaghy participated in a public Q&A since he was arrested, and it was also the first appearance by both Donaghy and Martino.
Tommy Martino’s cousin, Paul Martino, ’95, who was also on the panel, developed the concept and production of the film. Paul Martino is a general partner of Bullpen Capital and a Lehigh alumnus.
The project was initially slated to be a book. A ghostwriter visited Tommy Martino in jail once a week, in search of proof through Tommy Martino that Donaghy was fixing the games. Once he realized her intentions, he halted the book’s production.
“I made a lot of bad decisions in my life, and I wasn’t about to make another one,” Tommy Martino said.
Donaghy and Tommy Martino discussed the consequences of their sports betting deal and their experiences with the FBI. The FBI wanted to know if they were betting on games Donaghy was officiating.
“I was on a beach in South Beach, Miami, and I got an unknown call on my regular cell phone, not my burner phone,” Tommy Martino said. “It turns out that the FBI was on my front porch, and I knew right then and there, we were in trouble.”
Donaghy admitted to having a love of gambling and betting beforehand, which he said was a precursor to his own role in the NBA scandal.
He said he would gamble on the golf course, playing cards and at the casino. He eventually started gambling on college football, basketball, the NFL and the NBA.
Donaghy said the FBI kept Donaghy, Martino and Battista separated for questioning, and tried to scope out lies in their stories.
Donaghy said the FBI threatened sentences of up to 20 years in jail and placement in Witness Protection across the country to separate him from his family, while Tommy Martino’s family was bombarded with subpoenas and audits, which accrued a large expense for him.
In the end, Donaghy cut a deal first and was soon followed by Tommy Martino.
The film took eight years to produce, as Paul Martino said having representations of real people on the screen results in a lot of legal issues to deal with.
A film studio previously offered Tommy Martino a contract which would allow the studio to use Tommy Martino and his story in reality television and game shows. Paul Martino urged his cousin not to sign the deal.
“Tommy insisted, saying, ‘no, I really want to do something,’ so I said, ‘I’ll buy your life rights then,’” Paul Martino said. “This whole project started with me buying my cousin’s life rights in 2011.”
Although he had never produced a film before, he used his 25 years of entrepreneurial skills to deal with the business side of film. He assisted with hiring people, finances, marketing and more.
“I always thought it was a possibility that I would one day be involved in the creative side of Hollywood because I had worked with so many of those businesses for digital music distribution and film distribution,” Paul Martino said.
The head of marketing for FanDuel, a fantasy sports company, is in charge of marketing for the film. Paul Martino said he was on the board of FanDuel for years. FanDuel is currently one of the largest sports betting companies.
In 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting.
Former NBA Commissioner David Stern painted Donaghy as a rogue official, and said there were no problems in the NBA, since “that one guy was gone.”
“The leagues have done a lot of things to try and prevent these problems from happening again,” Paul Martino said. “They’ve implemented a lot of education programs and sequestered the referees from the players in different ways than they used to. It’s probably impossible to prevent, so the leagues are doing a good job I think, but there’s always more that you can probably do.”
Donaghy said all of the referees would discuss calls as an officiating crew. However, he said he accurately bet on games because he was able to manipulate the relationships between referees and players and referees and coaches.
He said he could predict the outcomes of calls on the court based on the meetings he had in the morning and in the locker room with both teams by bringing up injuries and players’ actions in previous games to see if they had to “stick it to a player.”
“People think I was out there putting Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Shaquille O’Neil to the bench so that a bet would win, but I never did that,” Donaghy said. “I just did what the NBA wanted us to call.”