Tutor becomes first charged in UNC agent probe
Former tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson is the first person to face criminal charges stemming from the football scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Thompson was indicted in Orange County for violating the state’s laws regarding sports agents. She was charged with four counts of athlete agent inducement for funneling $3,309 from agent Terry Watson to then-UNC wide receiver Greg Little in 2010 to get Little to sign with Watson.
Thompson was arrested Thursday morning and released on a $15,000 secured bond. After making a brief appearance Thursday afternoon, she is scheduled to be back in court on Oct. 15.
Thompson is being charged under the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which requires sports agents doing business in the state to be registered and prohibits giving money to players. Each charge is a Class I felony, which carries a sentence of up to 15 months and civil fines of up to $25,000.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said Thursday that this was the first time anyone had been charged under the act in North Carolina, and he believed it was the first such case in the nation. More indictments are expected to be unsealed soon.
“Although some people feel like it goes on everywhere – since everybody does it, it’s okay – that’s not the way it is,” Woodall said. “It’s not okay because it may go on everywhere, and when we have evidence that it’s gone on here, we’re going to take action.”
Elliot Abrams, who was in court representing Thompson, said that he was “shocked” that his client was charged and said that an indictment is not evidence of guilt.
“This has been a long and sad road for Jennifer,” Abrams said. “She’s a wonderful person, she’s a kind person and she’ll continue to maintain her dignity throughout this process. [I] don’t believe in any way that she committed a crime, and we look forward to reviewing the state’s case and discussing the matter with Mr. Woodall.”
Thompson, who served as an academic tutor for both the football team and for the son of then-head coach Butch Davis, was barred from having contact with the school after an NCAA investigation determined that she provided impermissible academic and financial assistance to several players.
The NCAA eventually found evidence of nine major NCAA violations in the football program, ranging from academic misconduct to impermissible benefits, which were committed by various people connected to the team. The North Carolina Secretary of State’s office followed the NCAA case with its own investigation, which focused on the conduct of agents.
Little, who starred at Hillside High School and now plays for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, told the Secretary of State’s office that he used Thompson as a go-between for payments between him and Watson so that the NCAA wouldn’t find a direct link between agent and player. Little also said that his first meeting with Watson, plus meetings with at least two other agents, occurred at Thompson’s apartment in Chapel Hill.
Little said he received more than $20,000 from Watson and was permanently banned from college football in 2010 for accepting other benefits.
Thompson was charged in the indictment with receiving $2,000 in cash from Watson in a FedEx package and delivering it to Little. She’s also accused of providing plane tickets valued at $579.50 each for Little and a friend, N.C. Central player Michael Johnson, to take a Memorial Day trip to Miami, and for paying for Little’s $150 flight change fee on his return trip from the Bahamas.
In each case, she was reimbursed by Watson.
Little also said that Thompson paid for his on-campus parking violations, which totaled $1,789, though that was not included in Thursday’s charges.
A subpoena of her phone records showed extensive contact between Thompson and three UNC players – Little, Bruce Carter and Charles Brown – plus contact with two other Tar Heels, Kendrick Burney and Quan Sturdivant. The records also showed direct contact between Thompson and agent Peter Schaffer and between Thompson and financial advisor Marty Blazer.