NEW YORK – Just before an NBA game on Dec. 26, 2006, Tim Donaghy overheard an official scorekeeper say that one of the teams playing that night, the Memphis Grizzlies, was "all banged up" with injuries.
The passing remark prompted the veteran referee to pick up the phone.
Donaghy secretly called a co-conspirator in a gambling scheme to recommend betting on the opponent, the Washington Wizards. The Wizards won, 116-101, easily beating the spread.
Prosecutors detailed the inside tip in a letter unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, where the veteran referee pleaded guilty last year to felony charges alleging he took cash payoffs from gamblers and bet on games himself.
In the letter, dated May 8, prosecutors asked a judge to consider giving Donaghy a break on his sentence to reward his "substantial assistance" in an investigation that resulted in the indictment and guilty pleas of a professional gambler and a middleman, both former high school classmates of the referee.
Prosecutors say Donaghy faces up to 33 months in prison at sentencing on July 14. His attorney has asked for probation.
The letter "confirms our position that Tim has been entirely truthful and credible," the defense lawyer, John Lauro, said Tuesday in a statement.
Lauro criticized the U.S. Attorney's office for giving Donaghy's two co-defendants plea deals that could result in far less prison time than his client, saying, "The prosecutorial decisions made in this case simply make no sense."
The attorney also has suggested prosecutors shut down the probe despite Donaghy's assertions that NBA corruption ran deeper — something the league denies. The U.S. attorney's office said Tuesday it has no comment.
The government's letter credited Donaghy, an NBA ref since 1994, with voluntarily contacting prosecutors and offering to cooperate before he'd been charged in the scandal. During four closed-door meetings before his guilty plea, he "fully acknowledged his criminal conduct and provided significant information about the participation of other individuals in the scheme."
Donaghy, of Bradenton, Fla., revealed he made NBA bets for four years, even wagering on games he worked. He also admitted recommending bets to high-stakes gamblers and collecting thousands of dollars when his picks hit.
There was no evidence that Donaghy made bad calls to influence the outcome of games, the letter said. However, he conceded "his personal financial interest ... might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance," it added.
Prosecutors "also debriefed Donaghy concerning improper conduct on the part of other NBA referees who had engaged in gambling that violated NBA rules," the letter said, without elaborating.