and I'm talking about the article from the Trib on the 10th
Posted on: June 11, 2012 at 17:12:17 CT
saying the same
yep, you whiffed on this one.
By STEVE WALENTIK
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Mike Alden had finished his workout March 16 and walked with associate athletic director Mark Alnutt through downtown Omaha, Neb., from their hotel to Starbucks in search of their customary morning pick-me-up.
An eventful day awaited with the Missouri basketball team set to begin the NCAA Tournament that afternoon against Norfolk State. Frank Haith's squad, fresh off its Big 12 Tournament championship, was at the CenturyLink Center going through its final shootaround with tipoff less than seven hours away.
But the MU athletic director's attention was about to be pulled away from March Madness. He and Alnutt returned to the team hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, and were alerted to news that FBI agents had arrived at the hotel at around 9 a.m. in search of Levi McLean Franklin Coolley.
They found him there and arrested him as part of a wider bust targeting nine individuals — eight from Columbia and another from Kansas City — for their alleged roles in a Boone County cocaine ring. Coolley has been indicted on one count of distributing cocaine and another of possession with intent to distribute and also faces charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, all felonies.
"First of all, I was shocked. Shocked," Alden said in an interview last month. "I wasn't surprised. I was shocked about that — and because I had no clue of something like that."
Coolley was not a faceless figure to Alden or others around the Missouri program.
Flight manifests obtained by the Tribune through an open records request show that Coolley flew with the team on previous NCAA Tournament trips to Boise, Idaho, and Phoenix in 2009; to Buffalo, N.Y., in 2010; and to Washington, D.C., last year and that he accompanied the team on a flight back from Austin, Texas, in January.
The Buffalo News, in a story about college basketball fans descending on western New York during the 2010 tournament, quoted Coolley as he looked out over Niagara Falls. His words also appeared in a Kansas City Star story published the night before his arrest that detailed the interaction between Missouri and Kansas fans forced into close quarters in Omaha.
A separate records request showed that one or more players left him complementary tickets to eight games at Mizzou Arena during the 2008-09 season and one more in the 2009-10 season.
Alden's sense of shock after learning of Coolley's arrest gave way to feelings of disappointment.
"We're there for an NCAA Tournament. We're excited about that. We've had a wonderful season, and all of the sudden, we have this distraction, which none of us would have known anything about," Alden said. "So I was disappointed, and then I think other emotions take over after that."
Among them was concern about Coolley's potential association with MU athletes. In the days after the arrest, the athletic department launched an internal review to determine the depth of Coolley's involvement with the program and whether laws or NCAA rules were broken.
Schools have always had a responsibility to keep their periscopes up to monitor the people who have access to their programs.
The history of NCAA enforcement is littered with cases of agents, bookmakers and overzealous boosters compromising players' eligibility or, worse, leaving them on the wrong side of the law.
In one extreme example from the past year, the NCAA and the University of Miami are investigating allegations that convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro provided extra benefits — including nightclub outings, sex parties, cars and other gifts — to 72 Hurricanes athletes between 2002 and 2010. The school could be subject to NCAA major sanctions if any of the charges leveled in a Yahoo! Sports story last August are substantiated.
Among the first questions addressed when assessing Coolley's involvement with the Missouri program was how he gained his access.
"Levi Coolley is not a donor to our program, nor is he a season ticket holder," Alden said.
Coolley accompanied the team on flights as a guest of Jay Lindner, the president of the Forum Development Group and a major donor to the athletic department.
Alden said major donors will often contact the school and can purchase seats on the team plane when flying to bigger events. They are permitted to purchase up to two tickets and can bring a guest. Those individuals undergo standard TSA screenings, but the school does not perform any additional background checks.
"It's not customary anywhere to do something like that," said Mary Austin, Missouri's senior associate athletic director for compliance.
"We do trust our donors to bring a guest that we think we're comfortable with," said Sarah Baumgartner, the director of the Tiger Scholarship Fund.
Lindner said he has known Coolley for several years. Coolley, one of the owners of Midwest Audio Visions, a custom car stereo business, rents his space in south Columbia from Forum Development Group. Lindner said he and Coolley struck up a friendship after Lindner invited him as a guest to a Missouri athletic event.
"Levi shared the same passion for Mizzou sports that we had, which is kind of why we hit it off," Lindner said.
Lindner was hanging out with Coolley in Omaha, and Lindner was also quoted in the Kansas City Star story published the night before Coolley's arrest. They traveled independently of the team, which bused to the NCAA Tournament instead of flying because of the proximity of the host city to Columbia.
Lindner said it was not uncommon for him and Coolley to hang out but that he had no idea of Coolley's alleged involvement in a drug ring. Lindner said he was surprised on the morning of March 16 — which happened to be Coolley's 33rd birthday — when he awoke to news of the arrest without hearing what led to it.
"Our initial reaction was of shock, of why in the world would this have happened?" Lindner said. "It wasn't until later that evening or maybe even the next morning that I think a story came out in the Tribune. That was the first time we had actually heard any details."
Asked if he believes in Coolley's innocence, Lindner said, "One would like to think so, but honestly, I don't have any clue, and that's really up to the legal system."
Coolley spent 11 days in custody in Omaha after his arrest but has been released while waiting for the legal system to run its course. Attempts to reach him at his apartment and his business were unsuccessful. A person who answered the phone at Midwest Audio Visions said Coolley only stops by infrequently.
His attorney, Jeff Hilbrenner, said his client has waived his right to a speedy trial.
Missouri officials moved forward with their own review, speaking with current players and some members of past teams, though Austin declined to say how far back they went with those inquiries.
One former player, J.T. Tiller, whose playing career ended in 2010, said he wasn't contacted by MU and that he wasn't aware of anything improper involving Coolley.
Alden said he notified Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, who was in charge of the program when Coolley's name began appearing on flight manifests.
"Out of courtesy to Coach and given the fact that we worked together for a long time, we gave him the heads up," Alden said, "because he had no idea that something like this happened."
It was clear Coolley did have contact with players, but based on her discussions, Austin said she wouldn't describe them as "close."
"We knew he was around our program," she said. "Yeah, they meet the people that are. There's a lot of people that go on away trips, and they get there on their own, and so the players are friendly and they talk to the people that are their supporters and everything, but I wouldn't say close."
Alden and Austin said none of the conversations athletic department staffers had with players led them to suspect they were involved in wrongdoing involving Coolley.
Asked specifically if the complementary tickets might have been in exchange for gifts — which would be an NCAA violation — both said no and pointed to audits that have been done on the department's ticketing procedures. One such audit occurred in 2010 in the wake of a ticket scandal involving five athletic department staff members at Kansas.
"We do the review to where we make sure that the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed and everything," Austin said, "and we felt comfortable after we went through the process."
Missouri administrators haven't felt compelled to make any sweeping changes to the way they monitor their programs in the wake of Coolley's arrest.
"We feel pretty comfortable with our procedures," Alden said, though he acknowledged the events of March 16 did serve as a reminder to him and his staff that they are always on call and expected to be paying attention to what goes on.
But Alden knows schools will never know about every person with whom their players come in contact.
"It can be virtually impossible to be able to determine the backgrounds of every single person that has an affinity for your program," Alden said. "I think you have a high level of responsibility, but certainly there's also a high level of inability to be able to monitor every single person that has access to your kids.
"So what do you do? You just constantly educate. You constantly communicate. You constantly try to monitor. You constantly have a heightened sense of skepticism, and that can be challenging, because I think our human nature is we want to be people that are trusting people. We want to be people that believe, especially believe in your donors and the people that your donors bring toward your program and associate with you."
Reach Steve Walentik at 573-815-1788 or e-mail email@example.com.
This article was published on page B1 of the Sunday, June 10, 2012 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.