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Miami booster says improper benefits given to now-NFL players

Several current NFL players were implicated in a massive Yahoo! Sports investigation, which alleged Tuesday that University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro -- who's serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme -- provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 student-athletes from 2002 to 2010.

Shapiro, 42, said he gave money, cars, yacht trips, jewelry, televisions and other gifts to players. He also claimed he paid for nightclub outings, sex parties, restaurant meals and, in one case, an abortion for a woman impregnated by a player.

Among the most prominent NFL players mentioned in the report, and some of the alleged benefits they received from Shapiro:

»Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots defensive tackle: A $50,000 lump sum payment, separate multiple cash gifts in the thousands of dollars and three game bounty payments totaling $1,250.

»Antrel Rolle, New York Giants safety: Approximately $40,000, a $7,500 Jacob the Jeweler watch and $1,500 in game bounties.

»Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers running back: Between $20,000 and $30,000 in cash.

»Devin Hester, Chicago Bears wide receiver/kick returner: Approximately $3,000 for an engagement ring, $7,500 in game bounties, cash for rims for his sport-utility vehicle and assorted clothing and entertainment.

»Sean Taylor, former Washington Redskins safety: A pair of diamond-studded dog tags from Buchwald Jewelers for approximately $15,000, and $3,000 in game bounties.

»Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos running back: Unspecified cash gifts, $2,000 in cash bounties, two tailored suits worth about $2,000 and plane tickets for his girlfriend and a second woman to attend the 2002 Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.

»Tavares Gooden, Baltimore Ravens linebacker: A $7,500 Jacob the Jeweler watch, a suit and assorted clothing, a job with the Miami Beach Police Athletic League, and a studio apartment which Shapiro owned and let Gooden use for one to two months.

»Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints linebacker: Unspecified cash gifts and $2,250 in game bounties.

Vilma dismissed the allegations when questioned Tuesday by the *Times-Picayune.* "I'm not really worried about that right now," Vilma said. "You have a guy that's in jail. Whatever his motive is right now, I don't know. Honestly, I don't care. You know, I'm gonna move forward and keep working with the Saints."

When contacted by Yahoo! Sports, Wilfork declined to speak about Shapiro. "I'm not interested buddy," Wilfork said, before hanging up.

The other players named above either wouldn't comment or couldn't be reached for comment by Yahoo! Sports. Taylor was murdered in a 2007 home invasion.

"Hell yeah, I recruited a lot of kids for Miami," Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports. "With access to the clubs, access to the strip joints. My house. My boat. We're talking about high school football players. Not anybody can just get into the clubs or strip joints. Who is going to pay for it and make it happen? That was me."

Shapiro has said multiple times in the past year, including in the Yahoo! Sports story posted Tuesday, that he is angry with several of the players he claims to have helped when they were Hurricanes. Miami officials began cooperating with NCAA investigators not long after Shapiro made claims about his involvement with players last year. University president Donna Shalala and athletic director Shawn Eichorst were questioned by the NCAA this week. The school reiterated Tuesday it takes the allegations seriously.

"I can tell you what I think is going to happen," Shapiro told Miami television station WFOR from federal prison in Atlanta. "Death penalty."

Yahoo! Sports says it spent 100 hours interviewing Shapiro over the span of 11 months and audited thousands of pages financial and business records to try and substantiate his claims.

In many of the alleged payments, Shapiro also implicated his former partner in Axcess Sports & Entertainment, a firm he claimed he co-owned with then-NFL agent and current United Football League commissioner Michael Huyghue.

Shapiro said the $50,000 payment to Wilfork was made to secure his commitment to Axcess Sports. Wilfork eventually signed with Axcess Sports, and his first NFL contract was negotiated by Huyghue.

Shapiro also told federal agents in taped interviews that Huyghue paid Gore.

"I know Michael Huyghue laid out a considerable amount of money to him," Shapiro said. "Somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 and $30,000. I'm quite certain that was the amount."

And Shapiro reportedly told federal agents that Huyghue told him that he paid Rolle approximately $40,000 while he was playing for the Hurricanes. According to a summary document acquired by Yahoo! Sports, Shapiro said: "Antrel Rolle was, I would say one of (four) guys who I considered closest. The other three would have been Vince Wilfork, Randy Phillips and Jon Beason. Antrel came up to me at a charity function that the University of Miami football team threw. He introduced himself to me and said, 'I want to get in on all the action. How can I hang out? Let me give you my number.' When you're talking about violations, he was about as bad as it gets."

Reached Tuesday by The Associated Press, Huyghue denied that story.

"It's just fantasy," Huyghue said. "He never had any role in my company."

Huyghue said he signed three Miami players in seven years. He said Shapiro wasn't a runner and didn't represent any players, but did invest $1.5 million in his agency in 2001 and that the two spoke only occasionally.

"He didn't have the acumen to represent players," Huyghue said.

At least one player named by Shapiro said he did try to steer them toward agents.

"I know of (Shapiro)," Hester said. "At the time, I was going into the draft, he was like a runner for an agent. I had declared into the draft. He was one of the runners for one agent."

Hester wouldn't say which agent, and he had no further comment when questioned at the Bears' night practice. Other NFL players cited in Yahoo's report include Beason, Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow Jr., Jonathan Vilma, Sam Shields and Kenny Phillips.

One former Miami player, running back Tyrone Moss, told Yahoo! Sports he accepted $1,000 from Shapiro around the time he was entering college.

"It was me and some other players with my incoming (class). I'm not going to say the names, but you can probably figure them out yourself," Moss told Yahoo! Sports. "When I was getting there my freshman year, it was me and a couple more players. It was me and a few more of the guys in my incoming class that he kind of showed some love to."

Miami coach Al Golden, who was hired in December, acknowledged Tuesday that some of his current players might have made mistakes.

"We'll stay focused. I'm certain of that," Golden said. "We're disappointed, but we're not discouraged. And again, there's going to be a life lesson here. We're talking about allegations from a man that's behind bars, now. If these do hold some truth, then we'll deal with them. There's no other way to do it."

Current Miami players weren't made available to comment Tuesday, and they will not be made available before Wednesday's practice, the university said.

At least six coaches and as many as 10 athletic department employees overall allegedly were aware of Shapiro's illicit activity, including former basketball coach Frank Haith, now at Missouri. All the coaches named by Shapiro have since left Miami.

Shapiro said he paid for 39 different players to receive sex from prostitutes. He also claimed to have offered a $5,000 bounty to any player who could knock Florida State quarterback Chris Rix out of a game.

"I did it because I could," Shapiro said of his spending. "And because nobody stepped in to stop me."

Shapiro's relationship with the Miami program dates back about a decade. Some of the alleged incidents occurred in the past four years, which would be within the NCAA's statute of limitations regarding violations.

Miami officials said that when Shapiro first made his allegations nearly a year ago, he and his attorneys refused to provide any facts to the school.

"The university notified the NCAA enforcement officials of these allegations," the school said in a statement Tuesday morning. "We are fully cooperating with the NCAA and are conducting a joint investigation. The University of Miami takes these matters very seriously."

After Yahoo! Sports posted its story Tuesday afternoon, the university released another statement, saying it "takes any allegations seriously, and will continue to cooperate fully in a joint investigation with the NCAA."

When Shapiro was sentenced, the U.S. Attorney's Office said he "used investor funds to make payments to dozens of student athletes who were attending a local university in the Miami area to which Shapiro made significant donations ... cash in amounts up to $10,000 and gifts such as jewelry and entertainment at nightclubs and restaurants in Miami Beach. As a result of a 10-year gift to the university, its Student-Athlete Lounge was named for Shapiro."

The University of Miami wasn't specifically mentioned in that release, but the school temporarily named its lounge for Shapiro. His name was removed in 2008 after the school said he didn't follow his pledged donation-payment plan.

Shapiro was sentenced in June after he admitted to securities fraud and money laundering. He also was ordered to pay more than $82 million in restitution to his victims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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