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N4T Investigators: Bribery scandal could cost UA $600K in legal - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Bribery scandal could cost UA $600K in legal fees

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Tucson - The Arizona men's basketball team is loaded with talent this season, and anything short of making its first Final Four since 2001 could be viewed as a disappointment. The full impact of the FBI's fraud and bribery investigation involving assistant coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson may not affect the program until next season, if at all, because it is expected to take a while.

However, UA finances will be impacted this season, by the bills being charged by two outside law firms the university hired to consult it on the investigation. The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to find out how much the two outside law firms would cost Arizona taxpayers. So on Oct. 5, we filed a public records request with the university to get the contracts. More than a month later, the two five-page agreements arrived. They say the UA will pay the firms a maximum of up to $600,000, combined. 

University Spokesman Chris Sigurdson declined an on-camera interview, saying "We are not commenting on any aspect of the investigation." When we asked for specifics regarding who will pay the outside lawyers, Sigurdson said, "No state or tuition funds will be used" to pay either firm. In other words, no taxpayers dollars will be spent, according to the University. Of course, that is money that would have been spent on other things.

Sigurdson said the law firm Steptoe & Johnson will be paid by the main campus administration, using revenue from, for example, the campus bookstore.  He said the Department of Athletics will pay the other firm, Jackson Lewis, with money from, among other things, television revenue and ticket sales. 

The agreement with Steptoe & Johnson says "The total fees and expenses shall not exceed $500,000, unless agreed to in writing by the parties." The contract with Jackson Lewis could reach $100,000, with the same stipulation about going over.

Individual attorneys for both firms don't come cheap: The hourly rate for one lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson is $750 an hour. Three others will be paid $550 an hour. A paralegal's hourly rate is listed as $300.  Both firms have many offices around the country, but none in Tucson, where only the top attorneys make about $450 an hour.

Tucson attorney Dev Sethi, who's not involved in the case, says, "The cost of this investigation and the cost of these fees to do this full investigation, are in line with what something like this requires."  Sethi says legal "heavy-hitters" are needed, and they avoid a possible conflict of interest than if UA employees did the investigating. Sethi, a UA grad, was the only attorney willing to discuss this on camera, out of six that we asked. 

Sethi said this is the type of mulch-layered, complex investigation these law firms specialize in, and that the university needs to know as much as possible before the NCAA could issue any punishment to the basketball program. UA mend basketball brings in about $20 million a year in revenues and may be the University's best-known brand.

Sethi said, "The dollars that are being spent for an independent investigation into what has happened are necessary because it'll allow the university to address what's gone on, and plan for the future,"

The cost of this investigation will be a lot more than the $20,000 bribe Richardson allegedly took, but millions of dollars in revenues could be at stake down the road, if there are any NCAA punishments. No one else with UA has been implicated.

We asked Sethi, "What do you say to people who don't care about basketball or are just upset over these lawyers' fees?" He said, "I don't have much sympathy for somebody that says, 'Well, I don't want my tax dollars going to pay for this investigation because I don't care about the basketball program. Part of the deal we make to live in a free society is we pay taxes and we pay fees. At the end of the day, the taxpayers should have full faith that they will get answers." 

The answers that many fans would like to get are to these questions: Did anybody else at the University know that Richardson allegedly took bribes or paid a recruit to commit to the U of A? And, If so, when did they know it? 

Richardson has pleaded not guilty to all charges and, as is University policy,  on paid leave, receiving his annual salary of $235,000. The UA spokesman said the dismissal process involving Richardson is ongoing.

If you have information on this or any other story you would like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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