Friday, June 17, 2005

Five-Yard Penalty

Logan Young gets a six-month sentence, but appeal means case will drag on.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2005 at 4:00 AM

The criminal prosecution of football booster Logan Young Jr. was one of the costliest, most time-consuming, and possibly ill-advised efforts in the history of the federal prosecutor's office in West Tennessee.

And it isn't over yet. When it is, the government will have spent at least five years to get a five-yard penalty against Young -- who received a six-month prison sentence -- and strip two former high school football coaches of their jobs.

There was a heroic search for principle and meaning by the prosecutor, judge, and daily newspaper during the sentencing phase, but the best that any of them could do was to proclaim that the corrupt "underbelly" of college sports had been exposed -- something that must be obvious to any sports fan over the age of 10.

On the eve of Young's sentencing last week, the case was right back where it started, with a former Memphis high school football coach making broad accusations not subject to cross examination in the newspaper about illegal recruiting and a bidding war for defensive lineman Albert Means.

A bidding war, by definition, presumes that there were multiple bidders, but the investigation of Young did not produce a single piece of evidence leading to the indictment and prosecution of another booster, coach, or athletic administrator.

Nor did it clean up recruiting in Memphis or, as assistant U.S. attorney Fred Godwin suggested, restore faith in "the integrity of the public school system in Memphis." The only high school head coach to take the stand during the trial was Lynn Lang, Young's accuser and Means' former coach. Only one other Memphis player was brought to court as a potential witness, and he was withdrawn after a discussion out of the presence of the jury.

Lang is unemployed and living in Flint, Michigan, Godwin's home town. He is in violation of the terms of his probation, which require him to maintain employment. Unknown to the judge and possibly the attorneys, Lang was unemployed at the time he was sentenced to no prison time based largely on Godwin's plea for leniency. He is spending his time talking to reporters about the recruiting of Means in 1999 and 2000 by Alabama and six other schools. Most of what was reported last week, minus the names of specific coaches, was in the August 29, 2001, indictment of Lang and Milton Kirk.

Then there is Means, the crux of the whole case. In his opening statement to the jury, Godwin said, "This case is about the buying and selling of a young man." Others went so far as to call it "slave trading." Now Lang says Means and his family got roughly $60,000 of the $150,000 that a jury determined Young paid Lang. Means also cheated by having someone take his college-entrance exam for him and lied about it to a federal grand jury. When Means and Lang testified during Young's trial, there was no mention of any amount close to $60,000, only small favors such as Christmas presents and a tuxedo for the prom.

Young's light sentence said a lot about the case. Over two days, U.S. District Court judge Daniel Breen listened carefully to almost 10 hours of argument from Godwin, Young's attorneys, and several witnesses. Godwin wanted a prison term of at least the 24 to 30 months called for in federal sentencing guidelines. He argued that Means was a "vulnerable victim" who suffered "loss of freedom of choice of what to do with your life." Breen didn't buy it. The judge also ruled against Godwin's requests for a longer sentence based on Young being an organizer of the scheme and obstructing justice. When Breen brought the day to a close by ruling that Young could remain free on bond pending his appeal, the government was 0 for 4.

"I'm happy with what I got," said Young, who has never admitted guilt and wasn't about to start Monday. He made his plea for mercy based strictly on his nonviolent nature, lack of a criminal record, ties to the community, and poor health.

After the sentencing, Godwin declined to comment, stopping only to scold a reporter for Sports Illustrated for bringing a tape recorder into the courtroom, which is against the rules. Look for an indictment any day now.

I for one am glad the federal government has bulldogs like Godwin on their side. As noted in court, the decision to investigate the Means case was made in January 2001 by former U.S. attorney Veronica Coleman. Godwin was doing his job, and he did it well, more than holding his own against defense attorney Jim Neal, one of the best in the business. The time and talent spent concocting a case of public corruption against Logan Young will be put to a more worthy test in the ongoing Operation Tennessee Waltz.

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