Tim Donaghy supposedly had his knee busted in federal prison by "the New York mob." The same group also has promised to "shoot him," presumably when he's free.
And then there's the tell-all book he penned from the pen that will "detail the culture of manipulation and fraud that permeates the NBA."
The former NBA referee was transferred Wednesday from federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., to a so-called halfway house in Tampa, which, if nothing else, means he'll have an easier time producing wild tabloid headlines, sensible or not.
For the NBA, the credibility of the tales hardly matter.
Donaghy remains the league's worst PR nightmare, a crooked ref who plays into the conspiracy that commissioner David Stern sits in his Manhattan tower and fixes games. Some people will believe anything on the topic.
Now Donaghy is halfway out, in desperate need of money and possibly eyeballing every checkbook journalist in America.
Why else would he have Executive Prison Consultants publicize his November 2008 prison attack?
Who the heck issues a press release about their knee capping?
Well, it worked. News of the beating rotated the globe, putting Donaghy's name out there smack dab in the middle of the NBA Finals even if the story is dubious on numerous levels. Sort of like the shooting threat or the book that no publisher appears willing to touch.
"In November he was on a [grounds keeping] job [at the prison] when he was approached by an inmate who just blindsided him with a blow with a stick-like object into the knee area," said Pat Zaranek of Executive Prison Consultants, his de facto spokesman. "It debilitated Tim immediately."
The Federal Bureau of Prisons had no comment on the alleged incident and there is no independent verification that it ever occurred. The Philadelphia Inquirer did report that Donaghy told the same story to his father.
Zaranek didn't know the other inmate's name or what the object was, but since they were all doing yard work a shovel handle seems reasonable. The other inmate was transferred to a different federal facility, Zaranek said. Even before the attack the guy supposedly told Donaghy what was coming.
"This person apparently told Tim Donaghy that he had ties to the New York mob and they were going to shoot him and break his knee caps."
Since the knee was taken care of, is Donaghy now in danger of getting murdered? Even for the "New York mob," actually blasting a guy inside of prison is extreme; so now that he can walk the streets, is it coming?
"That is a concern," Zaranek said. "How Tim is going to deal with that when he's eventually freed is a good question."
A better question is why the heck the mob was whacking Donaghy in the knee, or, even better, warning him that he was going to get whacked in the knee and shot. Wouldn't they just, you know, do it?
And why bother with a shovel handle if you're going to later use a gun?
"If the mob is going to do something that serious, they normally don't telegraph it; it's just done," said Michael Franzese, a former Mafia capo in New York's Colombo Crime Family who is now an author and inspirational speaker.
"If guys are serious and they want to eliminate someone they're not going to give them a warning," Franzese said. "It could've been some dumb, low-level guy, but a sophisticated guy from the mob wouldn't do it that way."
Franzese offered his own theory about why Donaghy's knee got hit. Franzese served seven years in prison for crimes ranging from racketeering to game fixing. He said Donaghy called him a number of times before his incarceration and the two spoke at length about gambling, prison and life after it. He found the former ref to be bitter, accusatory and still in a bit of denial.
"Tim didn't seem like a real likeable guy," Franzese said.
Franzese figures in prison, Donaghy rubbed someone the wrong way and paid for it.
"Who knows how he carried himself? There are a lot of guys in prison, and on the street, that claim mob ties. He probably came off the wrong way to one of them."
Zaranek said the "fundamental connection" to the mob is the insider basketball information Donaghy provided two long-time friends resulted in bets that eventually traced back to organized crime in New York.
However, Donaghy cooperated with federal authorities and gave up both of his friends, who also were sent to prison. He offered no knowledge of anyone in New York to the FBI, which he reiterated to Franzese.
"I grilled him on that," Franzese said. "He kept saying, 'No, it's only these two guys that I know.' "
If Donaghy didn't know any mobsters, then why would the mob bother with him? Why not bust his friend’s knee? Even if Donaghy did know names, why attack him if he'd kept silent and actually did time rather than cooperate with the feds?
"I don't think he had any further information," Franzese said.
Yeah, well, it's an exciting story. So is the possible hit waiting for him on the street.
If Donaghy is doing this to help sell his book or kick up a speaking career, a la Franzese, then you can understand. Franzese said Donaghy was obsessed about how he'd support his family after his incarceration. Hiring Executive Prison Consultants was a bold move. Zaranek said they can cost as much as $25,000, although Donaghy may have paid half of that.
Donaghy's problem is that Franzese was a major crime figure clearing $7 million a week in a variety of illegal businesses. He's billed as a real life Tony Soprano or Michael Corleone, and boldly quit the mob without federal witness protection.
Donaghy appears to be more wannabe than wise guy.
The manuscript Donaghy wrote in prison has thus far attracted no publishers and does not have a professional writer attached, according to Zaranek.
An acquisitions editor at a major New York publishing house who participated in a call with Donaghy said the book stands little chance. Donaghy had no detailed allegations of game fixing or specific league conspiracies. It was focused on trying to portray himself as just a good guy who made some mistakes.
"His best allegation was that the NBA would send in intermediaries of Stern's to speak to the refs before a big game and make clear they wanted certain things called a certain way," said the editor. "Then it would change game to game in a series because Donaghy claimed they wanted a long series.
"But he had nothing specific. He just said some of the [other refs] really listened to it."
The NBA did not respond for comment on Donaghy, or his potential book allegation, but having supervisors meet with referees is standard practice.
Franzese said they discussed the book and said, "I think the tell-all book is more a reflection of his anger and bitterness to the NBA."
This isn't to say Franzese doesn't believe in rampant illegal activity involving players, coaches and referees. He just doesn't think Donaghy knows anything about it. Franzese said a smart referee who keeps his business quiet can easily earn six figures a season just making sure the point spread is met on one to two games per week.
"I'd have paid a ref like that a ton," he said.
A ref like Donaghy, Franzese doesn't have a lot of time for, at this point. By most accounts, that's Donaghy though; always talking a bigger game than he could deliver, always trying to appear as more than he actually was.
On Wednesday, Donaghy takes a major step toward freedom, and if his ability to drum up publicity while behind bars is any indication, you're going to be hearing plenty from him.
David Stern's nightmare continues, believe it or not.
- Michael Franzese
- Tim Donaghy