Georgia-based agent arrested in probe
A Georgia-based agent has been charged with violating the state's sports agent laws by providing gifts to three former Tar Heels football players and obstruction of justice.
Unsealed indictments state that a grand jury indicted Terry Watson with 13 counts of providing cash or travel accommodations to Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn valued at nearly $24,000 in an effort to sign them. Watson also faces one count of obstruction for not providing records sought by authorities.
The 39-year-old Watson, based in Marietta, Ga., was arrested Wednesday morning, released on a $50,000 secured bond and made his first court appearance in the afternoon.
All three former UNC players are in the NFL. Quinn, a defensive end, was a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2011, while Austin and Little were both second-round selections that year. Little is a receiver with the Cleveland Browns. Austin, a defensive tackle, was drafted by the New York Giants but was released in August and signed with the Miami Dolphins last month.
The law requires agents to register with the North Carolina Secretary of State's office and prohibits offering gifts to entice athletes to sign representation contracts.
Russell Babb, Watson's Raleigh-based attorney, said after the court appearance it was too early to make a statement except to say he would "scrutinize" both the indictments and the state's agent laws.
Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall, whose office is prosecuting the case investigated by the Secretary of State's office, has said he believes it is the first time nationally someone has been prosecuted for violating sports agent laws in a state.
"I don't know about sending any messages but obviously for this charge, there had to be an agent involved," Woodall said. "So it was critical to bring this charge that there was an agent involved."
Last week, an ex-UNC tutor who worked with football players made her first appearance on charges of providing benefits to receiver Little. That included receiving a package containing cash from Watson and facilitating delivery of that money to Little, according to the indictment.
It is a Class I felony to violate the law, meaning a maximum prison sentence of 15 months for each count, and violations also could carry civil penalties of up to $25,000. Woodall said anyone who doesn't have a criminal record must be put on probation if they plead guilty or are convicted of a Class I felony.
Woodall said the obstruction charge against Watson is a Class H felony that could require up to 30 months in prison if he pleads guilty or is convicted.
Nine of the charges focus on Little, with the indictment stating that Watson provided $20,457.24 in benefits to Little between May and October of 2010. That included $18,200 in cash — much of that coming in six $2,200 monthly installments — as well as money to cover two airline tickets to Florida and a hotel room in Miami for that May 2010 trip.
Three charges involve Quinn, with the indictment stating Watson provided $1,525.74 in benefits in May 2010. That came in the form of money to cover two airline tickets to Florida and a hotel room in Miami for the same time as Little, as well as $100 in cash.
The indictment states Watson provided Austin with $2,000 in May 2010.
Austin and Little had told investigators that Watson had provided them with cash, according to search warrants unsealed earlier this year.
The charges come after three years of investigation by the Secretary of State's office, which launched its investigation shortly after the NCAA began a probe of improper benefits and academic misconduct within the UNC football team in summer 2010.
The NCAA declared Little and Quinn permanently ineligible that October for receiving thousands in improper benefits from people outside the program, while the school dismissed Austin from the team after a preliminary determination that he had received even more.
In Little's case, at least three of the monthly payments received from Watson came after the NCAA first visited campus in July 2010 as part of its investigation.
The next hearing for Watson is scheduled for Tuesday, though Woodall said he expects hearings in the agents probe to be pushed back to December. Former tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson, charged last week, won't appear in court again until Dec. 17.