HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP) A former NFL agent has pleaded guilty to violating North Carolina's sports agent law by providing thousands of dollars in improper benefits to three former Tar Heels football players to entice them into signing contracts with him.
Terry Watson, 43, of Marietta, Georgia, entered his plea Monday afternoon in a deal to resolve over-three-year-old felony charges. Watson received 30 months of probation and a $5,000 fine, while Judge Graham Shirley issued a suspended jail sentence of six to eight months.
Watson pleaded guilty to the 13 counts of athlete-agent inducement for providing roughly $24,000 in cash and travel accommodations to eventual NFL players Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Greg Little in 2010. A felony obstruction of justice charge for not providing records sought by authorities was dismissed as part of the deal.
He was one of five people facing charges in the case, four of whom were in the same courtroom Monday.
The law prohibits illegally luring collegiate athletes into contracts by providing them money, gifts or other items of value. It also seeks to regulate sports agent conduct by requiring them to register with the state. It has been enacted in at least 40 states along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though its structure and penalties can vary from state to state. In North Carolina, it is a low-level felony that would typically lead to probation for anyone who doesn't have a criminal record if they plead guilty or are convicted.
Watson's charges came after more than three years of investigation by the Secretary of State's office, which launched its probe in summer 2010 after the NCAA had opened an investigation into the Tar Heels football program. That case ultimately spawned the school's ongoing multi-year academic scandal, which has UNC currently facing five top-level NCAA charges that include lack of institutional control.
''Years ago when this all began, people in the athlete agent industry scoffed at us for looking into these cases,'' North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall said in a statement. ''They said `This is how it works and you can't change it.' But today, everyone in that business knows that when you come to North Carolina, you had better follow the law. And if you don't, we can and we will enforce the law.''
Russell Babb, Watson's attorney, told the court that Watson was no longer working as a sports agent since first facing charges in fall 2013 and had lost his license with the NFL Players Association. Instead, he said, Watson was working in chemical sales and waiting tables as a second job while going through a divorce.
Babb said Watson represented roughly a half-dozen players, including defensive back Cortland Finnegan.
''Terry fully understood what his options were and just wanted some closure today,'' Babb told The Associated Press after the hearing. ''He was adamant that he was tired of this hanging over his head. He's moving forward in a positive direction. Even though his marriage is falling apart, he's working hard and has the love of his kids.''
Watson's plea came together a few hours after his friend agreed to testify against him in a case as part of a deferred-prosecution deal that could lead to the dismissal of his charge after 12 months.
Patrick Mitchell Jones, 43, was charged in 2013 with athlete-agent inducement for providing $725 to former Tar Heels football player Robert Quinn. An indictment stated he provided the money through Quinn's former girlfriend to entice Quinn to sign with Watson.
Jones's deal required him to acknowledge his involvement and ''testify truthfully'' against Watson, according to a court document.
He has worked as a real estate agent in Cartersville, Georgia, and was described in a search warrant as Watson's friend. His deal also requires him to stay out of legal trouble, perform 48 hours of community service and not discuss the case with other defendants.
According to a probable cause affidavit in a 2013 search warrant, Jones told an investigator in June 2012 he was Watson's longtime friend and said he sent packages containing cash to student-athletes at Watson's request.