Investigators in North Carolina say a Georgia-based sports agent violated sports agent laws by sending cash payments to former Tar Heels football players.
In search warrants unsealed Monday, investigators with the Secretary of State's office say Terry Watson of the Watson Sports Agency sent $2,000 cash in 2010 to Marvin Austin, who was dismissed from the team that year for receiving improper benefits. They also say Watson had contact with players before registering with the state.
The office launched its probe in 2010 shortly after the start of an NCAA investigation at the school. The law prohibits agents from offering gifts before a contract is signed and can lead to criminal or civil penalties.
North Carolina is one of 42 states with laws regulating sports agents.
When she launched that investigation, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said the focus was not on athletes or schools — but on the agents and anyone giving athletes items of value. The state's Uniform Athletes Agents Act requires agents to register with Marshall's office and is designed to shield athletes from sports agents who would offer gifts to entice them to sign representation contracts.
It is a Class I felony to violate the law, meaning a maximum prison sentence of 15 months, and violations also could carry civil penalties of up to $25,000. Prosecution of the law is left to district attorneys in the locations where violations are alleged to have occurred.
Jim Woodall, the district attorney in Orange County, confirmed he has met with the Secretary of State's investigators but declined to comment on specifics of the case because it is an ongoing investigation. He said if a decision to prosecute is made, it will "more than likely" be in his county because that is where the University of North Carolina is located.
Watson didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press to his Marietta, Ga.-based office.
According to the search warrants, investigator A.H. Jones said Austin told him in an interview that "Terry Watson was a guy who gave me money" and the probe led him to an associate of Watson's named Patrick Jones.
The investigator said Patrick Jones admitted Watson had asked him to send packages to athletes he was recruiting to persuade them to sign with him because it was the only way Watson's agency could compete with bigger agencies, that packages containing cash was sent to athletes at other unnamed schools and that Watson contacted athletes almost five months before registering with the state.