Sports agent indicted on charges of giving UNC players money

Oct. 09, 2013 @ 07:46 PM

Georgia-based agent Terry Watson became the second person to be arrested and charged with violating the state’s laws regarding sports agents for offering almost $24,000 to three former North Carolina football players.

Watson, who made his first appearance at the Orange County Courthouse Wednesday, is accused of breaking the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which requires agents to register with the Secretary of State’s office and prohibits them from giving athletes anything of value before they sign a contract.

Watson, the 39-year-old head of the Watson Sports Agency, was indicted by an Orange County grand jury on 14 counts, including 13 for athlete agent inducement for offering cash, hotel rooms and flights to former Tar Heels Greg Little, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn in 2010. The final count of obstruction of justice was for refusing to provide financial records.

Watson was released on a $50,000 secured bond and is expected to be back in court in December. His attorney, former UNC football co-captain Russell Babb, said he couldn’t comment until he studied the indictments and the statute.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said he believed this is the first time nationally that an agent has been criminally charged with violating sports agent laws. Three more indictments are expected to be unsealed soon.

“The truth is the institutions and the athletes – they may not realize it – but they really pay a price over time for this activity,” Woodall said. “Everybody allows it to go on, it’s just a wink and a nod, and I think people’s attention needs to be brought to this. I mean, it’s against the law.”

Little and Quinn were declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA and Austin was kicked off the team in 2010 for accepting impermissible benefits. All three now play in the NFL.

Nine of the counts deal with Watson’s interactions with Little, a product of Hillside High School. Watson is accused of providing Little with $18,200, two round-trip plane tickets from North Carolina to Florida valued at $1,574, and a hotel room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Surfcomber in Miami valued at $683.24.

In a search warrant released last month, Little told an investigator with the Secretary of State’s office that he received the cash and gifts from Watson, while Austin said he received a package with $2,000 cash from the agent.

Watson is also accused of providing $1,525 in cash, flights and hotel rooms to Quinn. None of the players ended up signing with Watson.

The N. C. Secretary of State’s office has been looking into agents’ interactions with UNC football players since 2010, when the NCAA began a probe that found widespread violations within the football program. 

Former UNC tutor Jennifey Wiley Thompson was charged last week with four counts of athlete agent inducement for giving cash and gifts to Little and being reimbursed by Watson. Little told the Secretary of State’s office that he used Thompson as a go-between so the NCAA couldn’t find a direct payment from Watson to Little. Sure enough, the NCAA did not uncover the payments from Watson.

The Uniform Athlete Agents Act is meant to protect players and institutions and punish agents, and Woodall said that players are not in jeopardy of being indicted.

Despite the unprecedented nature of the charges – some states just issue civil fines to agents, while others ignore the issue altogether – Woodall said it was important to arrest violators.

“I think it is a good use of resources because I think it’s something that we need to take seriously,” Woodall said.

Agent inducement is a Class I felony, the lowest-level felony in the state, which carries a sentence of up to 15 months and civil fines of up to $25,000, although defendants without a criminal record must be given probation if they are convicted or plead guilty. Obstruction of justice is a Class H felony, which carries a sentence of up to 30 months.