Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Several Boston College basketball players conspired with gamblers and mobsters to engage in an illegal gambling scheme known as point shaving, that is, conspiring to avoid winning by a certain spread, or margin, predicted by gamblers. After the arrest of mobster Henry Hill revealed the shocking conspiracy, Boston center Rick Kuhn was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, reportedly the heaviest penalty ever given to an athlete for point shaving.

Summary of Event

The arrest of mobster Henry Hill in 1980 led to the discovery of point shaving at Boston College during the 1978-1979 basketball season. Several gamblers and mobsters were involved in the scheme with three Boston basketball players. The athletes would win or lose games within a certain point margin to increase gambling profits. The unearthing of the scandal shocked the sports world and impacted the regulation and enforcement of illegal gambling in athletics. [kw]College Basketball Players, Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston (Apr. 27, 1980) [kw]Basketball Players, Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College (Apr. 27, 1980) Basketball;game fixing Boston College;basketball scandal Point shaving in basketball Hill, Henry Kuhn, Rick Burke, James Basketball;game fixing Boston College;basketball scandal Point shaving in basketball Hill, Henry Kuhn, Rick Burke, James [g]United States;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] [c]Corruption;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] [c]Drugs;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] [c]Gambling;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] [c]Law and the courts;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] [c]Sports;Apr. 27, 1980: Mobster’s Arrest Reveals Point Shaving by Boston College Basketball Players[01870] Mazzei, Paul Perla, Anthony Perla, Rocco Sweeney, James Cobb, Ernie

The point-shaving scheme, devised in the summer of 1978, involved an intricate web of individuals, ranging from low-end gamblers and drug dealers to powerful criminal figures. Hill, a member of New York’s Lucchese crime family, became acquainted with gambler and cocaine dealer Paul Mazzei in 1972 while both were incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s Lewisburg federal prison for extortion. Hill and Mazzei designed the point-shaving scam while they were in prison.

After being released from prison in July, 1978, Hill met with Mazzei in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to further plan the gambling scheme. It was at this time that Hill was introduced to Mazzei’s drug affiliates, Anthony Perla and his brother, Rocco Perla. Anthony informed Hill and Mazzei that Boston College would be the ideal venue for implementing the point-shaving plot because of Rocco’s friendship with Boston College center Rick Kuhn. After Kuhn agreed to participate in the scheme, he coaxed his friend and fellow player James Sweeney to help carry out the plan.

Mazzei and the Perla brothers wanted Hill to involve his Lucchese crime family bosses James Burke and Paul Vario in the scheme as financial backers. Their involvement would help increase profits and, because of their wide influence, ensure control over bookies and nonpaying debtors. After receiving the consent and support of Burke and Vario, Hill further developed the details of the scheme: The Lucchese family would finance the gambling plot, and Mazzei would transfer the funds to the Perlas to pay the Boston College players involved.

Kuhn was given the responsibility of deciding which games to fix and of ensuring that the games’ scores would result in the desired point spreads necessary for payout. Common methods that were used for controlling the point spread in basketball games included fouling other players and missing free throws. The scheme was finalized shortly after Hill and the Lucchese crime family conducted a heist of $5.8 million from a vault at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The point-shaving plan was first put into action during the game between Boston College and Providence College on December 6, 1978. The game ended unfavorably for the gamblers when Boston won outside the wagered point margin. The gamblers considered the Providence game a failure because of their lack of control over players scoring on the court. The gamblers were convinced that more Boston players had to be involved for the scheme to work. Boston’s top scorer, Ernie Cobb, and several bookies were coerced into the scam.

Before the start of the next fixed game, the scheming Boston players were threatened by Hill and Burke to adhere to the plan. Kuhn, Sweeney, and Cobb began to realize the growing risks of working with the mob, including violent repercussions, but the players also feared legal authorities and being sanctioned by the National Collegiate National Collegiate Athletic Association;basketball Athletic Association.

The Boston players continued to shave points and produce a substantial profit for the gamblers between December, 1978, and the following March, and were instrumental in fixing a total of nine games after the failed game against Providence. To counter any growing suspicions of their point shaving, the gamblers rigged several games to break even in their payouts. A significant upset in gambling profits occurred during a game with Holy Cross, in which a basket by Cobb placed Boston beyond the wagered point margin at the end of the game; this error led to Burke’s withdrawal from the scam. Boston ended its season with a 22-9 record, and the gamblers profited from six of the nine games that were fixed. Hill allegedly made close to $100,000, and his associates made up to $250,000. Each Boston player reportedly earned an average of $10,000. The players and gamblers parted ways at the end of the season, but only for a short time.

The point-shaving scandal would bring the players and gamblers together once again during the early 1980’s. Hill was arrested on April 27, 1980, in Mineola, New York, for six drug-related felonies and was later charged in connection with the heist at the airport in 1978. Hill agreed to cooperate with authorities for two big reasons: First, the evidence against him was overwhelming, and second, Lucchese family members and others involved in the airport heist were murdered to keep them from revealing details of the crime should they be arrested.

Fearing for his safety, Hill entered the witness protection program and became an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), providing critical information on the Lucchese family’s criminal activities. Under the terms of the contract with the FBI, Hill was required to provide a full and honest account of all his crimes to avoid conviction and imprisonment. He revealed the Boston College point-shaving scandal to shocked authorities.

Impact

The scam remained undetected until Hill’s testimony to the FBI and became known publicly only after Hill agreed to sell his story to Time Time magazine magazine for $10,000. After the article was published in Time, the Lucchese family issued a $100,000 hit on Hill. The FBI was forced to increase security measures to protect its informant.

On October 27, 1981, the federal trial began in a Brooklyn court. Burke, Mazzei, Anthony and Rocco Perla, and Kuhn were charged with conspiracy, Bribery bribery, and racketeering. Hill’s testimony in the case helped the prosecution seal convictions against four of his former associates. In 1982, Burke received a prison sentence of twenty years and Mazzei was sentenced to ten years. Anthony Perla was sentenced to ten years (later reduced to six years), Rocco Perla received a four-year prison term and was fined, and Kuhn was sentenced to ten years, the longest prison term ever given to a college player for point shaving. Kuhn’s prison term was later reduced to four years; he was released in 1986. Cobb was not indicted until 1983 and was found not guilty in 1984. Vario also was acquitted of all charges. Sweeney avoided being charged in the scandal because he cooperated with authorities and testified against the others in court.

Although the scandal stunned the sports world and damaged the reputation of Boston College, point shaving continues unabated in college sports. Players still risk being expelled from their respective colleges or universities and face indictment and imprisonment, yet the schemes continue.

One positive outcome of the scandal was the development of several deterrence and detection techniques. These new techniques include monitoring the amount and frequency of wagers and comparing team odds with expected point margins, all in the hope of catching perpetrators in their acts of crime. Basketball;game fixing Boston College;basketball scandal Point shaving in basketball Hill, Henry Kuhn, Rick Burke, James

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hill, Henry, with Douglas Looney. “Anatomy of a Scandal: The Mastermind’s Inside Story of the Boston College Point-Shaving Scheme.” Sports Illustrated, February 16, 1981. Offers a detailed firsthand account of the scandal by gangster turned FBI informant Henry Hill.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCarthy, Michael. “Point-Shaving Remains a Concern in College Athletics.” USA Today, May 9, 2007. Discusses the common problem of point shaving and illegal gambling practices in college sports, and details the methods used to prevent and detect such activities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Porter, David. Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball. Dallas, Tex.: Taylor Trade, 2000. Provides a chronological narrative of the people and events involved in the point-shaving scandal. Includes news references, interviews, and details of the investigation and trial.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Staurowsky, Ellen J. “Piercing the Veil of Amateurism: Commercialization, Corruption, and U.S. College Sports.” In The Commercialization of Sport, edited by Trevor Slack. New York: Routledge, 2004. Staurowsky discusses how amateur athletics in the United States has moved to commercialized and corrupt spectacle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thelin, John R. Games Colleges Play: Scandal and Reform in Intercollegiate Athletics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Provides a chronicle of college sports from 1910 to 1990. Discusses specific scandalous events and examines how college sports are an integral part of university, and American, life.

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