BY GENNARO A. FILICE IV
DAILY SPORTS EDITOR
Published July 20, 2003
Last Monday, a day before his trial for perjury was set to begin, Chris Webber pleaded guilty to a smaller charge of criminal contempt, according to his attorney Steve Fishman. The former Michigan and current Sacramento Kings superstar will be fined but won't face any jail time.
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"Given all the circumstances, it was an excellent resolution," Fishman said.
The trial of Chris and Mayce Webber, Chris' father, was supposed to start last Tuesday with jury selection. The duo had faced a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for lying to a federal grand jury in 2000. According to Fishman, Chris Webber had mixed feelings following the hearing.
"Chris's thoughts are: Number one, he is relieved that the case is in the process of being concluded," Fishman said. "Number two, he deeply regrets what has happened to the University of Michigan basketball program as a result of this entire matter."
Judge Edmunds will make a final decision on Chris Webber's punishment - including whether the crime will be a misdemeanor or felony - on September 16. The government dropped all charges against Mayce Webber on Tuesday.
This trial spawned from a grand jury investigation of former Michigan booster Ed Martin. The grand jury was inspecting an illegal gambling ring run in Detroit auto plants by Martin. Allegations said Chris Webber received some of Martin's illegal proceeds while attending Detroit Country Day High School and the University (1988-93). Both Webbers and Chris Webber's aunt, Charlene Johnson, denied receiving any loans from Martin when called to the stand.
But in May 2002, Martin pleaded guilty to giving $616,000 to Webber and three other former Michigan basketball players (Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock). According to Martin, Webber received $280,000 - by far the largest sum of the four.
Following this testimony, the trio was indicted last September on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.
After Martin died of natural causes at the age of 69 on February 14, a chain of events occurred in the defense's favor.
First, all charges against Johnson were dropped in May.
"According to the government, (charges against Johnson) were dropped because Mr. Martin is no longer here to give his version of events," Fishman said.
In June, the prosecution dropped the obstruction of justice charges against both Webbers, again citing Martin's absence as the cause.
Then on July 8, the defense prevailed once more when Edmunds disallowed key evidence, including Martin's hand-written notes that chronicled his money laundering to Webber.
In last Monday's hearing, Webber admitted to reimbursing Martin $38,000 cash.
Under NCAA regulation addressing Martin's generosity, Michigan basketball will undergo a second year of post-season probation in 2004 (In 2003, a postseason ban was self- imposed). The NCAA also forced the program to forfeit 112 games from the 1990s, during which the quartet attended Michigan and imposed a loss of one scholarship each year for four years that will start in the 2004-05 academic year.