ST. LOUIS – A Missouri men's basketball fan who over four seasons regularly traveled with the team to NCAA tournament games has pleaded guilty to a federal drug conspiracy involving cocaine and marijuana distribution in Columbia.
Online court records show Levi McLean Franklin Coolley pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to two felony counts of attempting to sell more than 88 pounds of cocaine and an unspecified amount of marijuana between 2005 and 2011, as well as one count of money laundering.
Coolley, who owns a car stereo shop in Columbia, was arrested by FBI agents in March 2012 while at the Missouri team hotel in Omaha, Neb., hours before the Tigers' second-round loss to Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament.
A review by Missouri found no improper influence by Coolley. He was on team flights as a guest of Columbia real estate developer and prominent Missouri donor Jay Linder and received complimentary tickets from players at nine games in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. The connection was first reported by the Columbia Daily Tribune, which obtained flight manifests from the university under state open records laws.
Like other Division I programs, Missouri allows major donors to purchase empty seats on team planes when traveling to big events, such as tournaments and bowl games.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson in Kansas City said the criminal case against Coolley did not involve Missouri athletics.
"We've never made any allegations of any connection," said spokesman Don Ledford.
A total of 16 people were charged in the federal investigation, with all but one of defendant, a Kansas City man, listing central Missouri addresses in court documents. Like Coolley, most have since pleaded guilty.
Coolley's plea deal requires him to forfeit $54,400 that he reportedly earned from drug sales and funneled into his car stereo business. He faces a minimum 10-year prison sentence. A sentencing hearing is not yet scheduled.
Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://twitter.com/azagier