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Lance Thomas settles with jeweler, diminishing the NCAA’s hopes of finding a smoking gun

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Lance Thomas (Getty Images)

Whether former Duke forward Lance Thomas accepted an extra benefit or not, it's now going to be extremely difficult for the NCAA to prove it.

Thomas has reached a settlement with the New York jeweler who sued him for defaulting on nearly $70,000 worth of diamond necklaces, earrings and watches, the Raleigh News & Observer reported Tuesday morning. Since a confidentiality agreement is likely part of the settlement and the NCAA lacks subpoena power, investigators would probably have to proceed without any input from either Thomas or the jeweler.

The lawsuit filed by Rafaello & Co. earlier this month made headlines nationwide because it pulled the curtains back on a potential infractions case capable of jeopardizing Duke's 2010 national title and tarnishing Mike Krzyzewski's legacy.

It raised eyebrows that a college senior had from a single-parent home had $30,000 to use a down payment for jewelry. Maybe Thomas had a generous, wealthy uncle or perhaps his scholarship might have freed up money from a college fund, but that's still a lot of money for a college student to be throwing around.

The second noteworthy aspect was that the jeweler apparently provided Thomas with a $67,800 loan covering the remainder of the cost of the merchandise. NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from receiving extra benefits based on their celebrity as a player or against future professional wages.

The most plausible scenario here seems to be that Thomas received a loan based on the money he could make as a professional either in the NBA or overseas, but that's irrelevant if the NCAA can't prove it. And unless the jeweler comes forward and talks to the NCAA or Thomas admits it himself, the NCAA has no obvious way of acquiring a smoking gun.

As for the $30,000 down payment, that's also likely a dead end. Thomas would have to incriminate himself or the person who provided him the money would have to come forward for the NCAA to have the evidence it needs.

In the 10 days since the lawsuit became public, neither Thomas nor the jeweler have spoken publicly about how the former Duke forward paid for the merchandise or why he received the loan.

Don't expect that to change anytime soon, which means NCAA investigators will probably have to accept they'll never have more than circumstantial evidence against Thomas and move on to more promising cases.

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