BY J. BRADY MCCOLLOUGH
Daily Sports Editor
Published May 27, 2002
DETROIT - Former Ford autoworker Ed Martin, who has spent the last three years under federal investigation for laundering money from an illegal gambling conspiracy, admitted his guilt for the first time in front of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland today, accepting a plea bargain and avoiding his June 17 trial.
By accepting the plea bargain negotiated by prosecutor Rick Convertino and Martin's lawyer, William Mitchell, Martin gave up his constitutional rights and will be forced to disclose all information regarding his illegal gambling conspiracy as well as the depth of his involvement with former Michigan basketball players Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock.
"We're happy to resolve this," Mitchell said. "It's been a long haul. A lot has been said that is true, and a lot has been said that is not true."
As part of the plea bargain, Martin will be required to cooperate with the government, University officials and could even be subjected to lie detector tests.
A time has not yet been set for Martin to meet with officials from the University. Convertino said that Martin will almost definitely meet with University officials prior to his Aug. 29 sentencing date.
The Michigan basketball program, which has been under the NCAA's microscope since March 1996, could receive probation, television and tournament bans or scholarship restrictions, depending on how the NCAA views Martin's testimony.
"We have always been interested in finding out the truth with the case surrounding Ed Martin," Athletic Director Bill Martin said. "Today's plea bargain is a step in that direction. We hope to have the opportunity very soon to sit down and speak with Mr. Martin, so we will be able to bring this matter to a close."
Ed Martin, who is known throughout Southeastern Michigan as a basketball "junkie," confirmed that he was involved in a conspiracy that made money from illegal gambling and laundered it to the four Michigan players to conceal substantial amounts of cash. The loans were kept secret by the players and their families.
Martin confirmed the allegation that from 1988 to 1993, he gave former Michigan basketball star Chris Webber and his family approximately $280,000. The 68-year-old said he paid for Webber's rent while at the University, hotel rooms, food and "things along that line." Webber, who now plays a starring role for the NBA's Sacramento Kings, told The Sacramento Bee earlier this month that $200,000 was a "crazy" amount.
Martin also admitted that he gave similar gifts to Traylor from 1994 to 1998 and confirmed the alleged totals given to the other players - $160,000 to Traylor, $100,000 to Taylor and over $70,000 to Bullock.
When asked if he had a message to relay to the University, Ed Martin responded with a simple "Go Blue."
"I love the University of Michigan," Martin said. "They did nothing wrong."
Although he admitted the bulk of the loans were from illegal sources, Martin did say that some of the money was legitimately earned.
Attorney Gregory Fisher Lord, who represented Martin's wife, Hilda, said that a third party, now deceased, also gave Ed Martin money to loan the players. Lord said that the third party had no affiliation with the University and was just interested in helping out Ed Martin. Both Martin and the third party were expecting the players to pay them back once they made it to the NBA.
Lord said that just one of the four players held up his end of the deal, paying Martin back the full amount, but he would not disclose which player.
"Eddie Martin stood up there and openly and candidly admitted what he did was wrong," Lord said. "He put food on (the players') table, clothing on their backs. We're going to find out that these kids turned their back on him. Shame on them. When he needed food on his table, three of four turned their back.
"He doesn't have enough money to buy food through the month of May. The money from the illegal gambling business was never used for his benefit," he added.
Lord and Mitchell indicated that there are probably many more kids in the Detroit area that Martin helped in the same way as the Michigan players.
"There are many, many players who needed help," Lord said. "These four just made it big."
Said Mitchell: "(He may have helped) even thousands. If there was a kid who didn't have shoes, he'd give them shoes. He'd sacrifice his own family for the kids."
Mitchell said that a big factor in his client's decision to plead guilty - a decision that Martin neglected to make the last time he was given the chance in May 2000 - was that the charges of conspiracy against his wife would be dropped. Ed Martin also had all counts dismissed except "conspiracy to launder monetary investments." He was originally charged on eight counts, including conspiracy to launder money, three counts of laundering money, two counts of using money for illegal gambling activities and one count of having an illegal gambling business.
The conspiracy conviction that Martin agreed to could entail a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.2 million. As part of the plea bargain, Martin still faces a probable sentence of 30 to 37 months, but Cleland made it clear during the meeting that he has the ultimate hand in what sentence Martin will serve.
Cleland indicated that while the two sides came up with an accurate guess of a proper sentence, he would wait to see how beneficial the information Martin reveals is for the investigation. Once Cleland makes his decision, both sides are free to appeal if they are unhappy with the sentence.
"I don't know what to expect. We hope for the best," Mitchell said. "I believe (Cleland) will be fair."
As Cleland put it, the "rosiest" situation for Martin would be that his testimony was so helpful to the government that it would request he be given just probation and no imprisonment.
In court, Martin said he was convinced that scenario will eventually play out, insisting, "Yes, sir, it will," as Cleland explained to him the possibility of not receiving jail time.
But Cleland said Martin's response is only a "hopeful prediction."
Mitchell said his client understood the possibility of receiving jail time, but he is remaining optimistic.
"My client knows what he did and what he didn't do," Mitchell said. "(Ed and Hilda) have been painted as Bonnie and Clyde, and that's wrong."
-- Daily News Editor Maria Sprow contributed to this report.