The future of the Michigan basketball program could take a big hit today if former booster Ed Martin decides to accept a plea bargain in a meeting with U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland.
Martin and his wife, Hilda, were indicted March 21 for loaning former Michigan basketball players Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock a total of $616,000 during their years with the Wolverines in an effort to launder money from his illegal gambling enterprise in Detroit auto plants. If these allegations are proven true, the Michigan program could face probation, television and postseason bans and scholarship reductions from the NCAA.
If Martin does accept a plea bargain today, he would avoid going to trial June 17. Despite that, it’s still unknown what course of action will be taken.
“That is the 64-million-dollar question,” said Ed Martin’s attorney, William Mitchell. “A plea bargain means that we are going to come to some kind of agreement about what occurred and how it should be resolved.”
Rick Convertino, the lead federal prosecutor for the Martin case, told Mitchell last month that any possible plea bargain would require “full cooperation” from Martin, which means that the University would finally receive some help in uncovering the truth surrounding the scandal that has been hovering over its head for years. A decision to accept a plea bargain would also help the NCAA in its investigation of the Michigan program.
“I’d very much like to see the plea bargain, so we can learn the facts and work with the facts along with the NCAA,” Athletic Director Bill Martin said. “We can put this chapter behind the Michigan basketball program. I have no idea what will happen, but I’m pleased to see that this has finally started to resolve itself.”
Mitchell indicated that his client had not yet come to a decision.
“We are still reviewing all of the options with regard to a resolution, and we’ll see how it goes (today),” Mitchell said.
Judging from Ed Martin’s court history, there is no way to be certain that he will choose to plead guilty and avoid trial. On May 3, 2000, the retired Ford auto worker backed out of an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that would have required him to disclose all information about his interactions with the Michigan players.
If Ed Martin decides to plead innocent and stand trial, it is likely that the Michigan players will have to testify in court. Webber, who allegedly received $280,000 from Martin beginning in his sophomore year of high school at Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, Mich., told The Sacramento Bee earlier this month that he did accept money from Martin numerous times, but it was nowhere near the alleged amount.
“I was definitely asking (him) for money or to help me get gym shoes here and there, in high school when you want to look good and things like that, but that was really the extent of it,” Webber said. “As far as $200,000, that’s crazy numbers.”
– Daily News Editor Maria Sprow contributed to this report.