Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen
PJ Hairston and impermissible benefits; connections
between basketball players, felons, and UNC alumni

            As covered in the beginning of the book, in early January of 2010 a number of Tar Heel star football players announced they would forgo the NFL draft and return to school.  The majority of them would eventually lose their NCAA eligibility due to accepting impermissible benefits.  Fast forward to April 12, 2013.  P.J. Hairston, the basketball team’s leading scorer the previous season, announced he would return to UNC for his junior year instead of entering the NBA draft.  Hairston released a statement at the time of his decision: “I value the experiences I have had over the past two years in Chapel Hill and hope to continue to grow under Coach Roy’s guidance.  Coach always says when you focus on the team during the season, he will support us in the offseason – this is my way of supporting coach, my teammates and the Tar Heel community.  Go Heels!”  Unfortunately for Hairston, his career would take a very similar turn as some of those other gifted UNC athletes who chose another year of school over a guaranteed professional payday.  And as was the case with the football players who elected to stay in Chapel Hill, perhaps there was an underlying reason for them returning after all.
            On May 13, 2013, Hairston was caught speeding in Durham County in a 2012 Camaro.  Not much was said about the event, despite the fact that the vehicle was on the expensive end of the spectrum for many college students.  A few weeks later, however, Hairston had another run-in with the law.  On June 5, 2013, he was stopped in Durham and charged with possession of marijuana.  The initial details were limited, but the vehicle that was cited at a Durham traffic stop was a 2013 Yukon, and was reported to be a rental.
            A June 6, 2013, article by USA Today Sports recounted some of the information from the traffic stop.  According to police, Hairston was stopped at an intersection for a license check at 10:20 p.m. the prior evening.  He and two other passengers faced misdemeanor drug charges, the article said.  Hairston also was charged with driving without a license.  Steve Kirschner, UNC’s senior associate athletics director for communications, said in a statement: “Coach Williams and Bubba Cunningham are aware of a situation that took place last evening with P.J. Hairston.  We’re currently looking into it to gather the facts.  We will issue a statement when we have enough information to do so.” 
* * *
            For several weeks the story remained dormant.  The rumors were plenty, and were mostly discussed through social media: Hairston apparently didn’t have a license; a gun had been found outside the vehicle; the Yukon was a rental.  Little official confirmation, though, could be found from media (or university) sources.  That would partially change on June 30, 2013, as information from what had become a reputable non-media source emerged.  As had been the case on several occasions over the previous few years, it came via the website. The details were from the same message-board user who had broken the story about the transcript identity of Julius Peppers the previous summer, as well as several other key aspects of the ongoing athletic scandal.  Based on internet archives of the website from the evening of June 30, people from multiple sites across the internet immediately took serious notice of the claims the board user was making – largely because of his accurate informational track record. 
Parts of the post said: “The renter of the vehicle Hairston was driving on the night he was arrested was Haydn ‘Fats’ Thomas of Durham, 39 years of age.  [Thomas] has prior arrests on a variety of counts, but more recently (and most notably) on drug and weapons charges.”  The post gave further background information on Thomas, including links to his past criminal history.  It closed by referencing the potential NCAA impact of Hairston’s actions:  “What is no longer in question is whether [Hairston] accepted a “gift” (in the form of a rental vehicle) from someone.  What is in question, is why that gift was made.  And who at unc (other than Hairston himself) had knowledge of it.”
A free-flow of information would begin to gather on the website over the next few days as the story began to pick up steam on the internet.  The information was finally confirmed by a mainstream media source several days later.  In a July 3, 2013, article from USA Today Sports, college basketball writer Eric Prisbell presented the first of numerous eventual blows to UNC and Hairston that would be seen nationwide.  It stated that the newspaper had obtained a rental receipt showing that Haydn Thomas had indeed rented the 2013 Yukon.  In the article, Thomas said he had rented the car for himself and that a friend, Miykael Faulcon of Durham, had borrowed it to go to a store when the arrest occurred.  “I don’t know P.J. Hairston,” Thomas said.  “I know Miykael, his friend.  I don’t know anyone at Carolina.  I don’t even like the Carolina team.  Look at the age disparity between me and those boys.  I could be their father.”  Despite those bold statements of denial, in the coming days they would be shown to be false.
Other specific details from Prisbell’s article on July 3 were that the Yukon was rented at 10 p.m. June 2 at the Hertz location at Raleigh Durham International Airport, and was returned at 10:30 p.m. June 5.  The charge was $1,261.64.  The license plate number on the rental receipt matched the one listed on the police report of Hairston’s arrest, as did the year, make and model of the vehicle.  The police report revealed that a 9-millimeter handgun was seized during the traffic stop that led to Hairston’s arrest on possession of marijuana charges.  The handgun was found outside the vehicle, according to the limited report.  Thomas went on to say that he knew Faulcon from “partying at clubs.”  He seemingly went out of his way to add that he was not a University of North Carolina athletic booster nor was he connected to a sports agent.  “Why am I being persecuted?” Thomas asked.  “I did not rent nobody a car.”
            Following Hairston’s arrest in June, UNC basketball coach Roy Williams had told USA Today Sports that he was waiting for more information before making a decision about Hairston’s status with the team.  “The good thing is,” Williams said, “I don’t have to make a decision right now because we’re in summer school, fall semester has not started, basketball has not started.  We’re going to wait and see what happens.  I’ve got some ideas, but right now those ideas are staying in my mind.  I am waiting until all the facts come in and then I will take care of everything that needs to be taken care of.”  As of July 3, some very specific facts had been revealed.  Yet at the time, Williams – and UNC – remained silent on Hairston’s status with the team, taking no punitive action against him.
* * *
            Three days later more news would emerge, much of which debunked some of the quotes that Haydn Thomas had given just a few days prior.  Based on more receipts that were obtained by USA Today, Eric Prisbell wrote on July 6, 2013, that the Camaro that Hairston was driving on May 13, 2013, when he received a speeding ticket was also a rental.  That Camaro had been paid for by a woman who shared a Durham address with Haydn Thomas, seemingly eliminating the claim that Thomas did not know Hairston, as well as the possibility that the Yukon rental had been a one-time type of event. 
            The woman’s name was Catinia Farrington, and the address she listed on the Hertz rental receipt matched the address Thomas listed on his voter registration.  The Camaro had been rented from April 25 through June 17 of 2013, a period of 54 days.  The bill for Farrington was $3,249.  In addition, Thomas himself had rented the same vehicle from March 25 through April 15, for charges of $2,468.47.  Corresponding information indicated that receipts were only available from Hertz for a six month period, so whether the Camaro had been rented earlier than January was unknown.  Calls to both Thomas and Farrington prior to the second story by Eric Prisbell were not returned.
* * *
            By this time two major stories had come out regarding a star UNC basketball player and almost certain impermissible benefits, yet Roy Williams and UNC maintained their silence.  Unfortunately for the school, even more information would continue to surface that connected Haydn Thomas to Hairston and the university.  In a USA Today Sports article from July 10, 2013, it was reported that four rental vehicles linked to Thomas had received a total of nine parking citations on the school’s campus since February.  The citations were all issued between February 21 and May 28, 2013, and were for vehicles that either Thomas or Farrington had rented from the Hertz location at the local airport.
            The vehicles included both the aforementioned 2013 Yukon and 2012 Camaro that Hairston had been driving during run-ins with the law.  The other vehicles were a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe and a 2013 Mercedes Benz.  An interesting side note was that while the Mercedes had received four tickets between May 8 and May 30, a peculiar message had actually been sent out via the Twitter social media site on December 20, 2012, from an acquaintance of Hairston named Jarrett Ballard.  The tweet said, So pj comes to pick me up in.. 2012 Benz 2door.”  While vague in nature, given the latest revelations the tweet at least hinted at the possibility that Hairston had been driving high-end vehicles for some time.  The article said that unpaid fines for the tickets totaled $315.  The newspaper contacted UNC’s department of public safety seeking more information about the citations, but was referred to the university’s general counsel’s office.
Some conflicting quotes were given in the article regarding the relationship of Haydn Thomas with Hairston and another of the young men who had been involved in the June 5 traffic stop in Durham.  Thomas had earlier stated that he didn’t know Hairston, but was acquainted with Mykael Faulcon – and it was Faulcon for whom the vehicle had been rented.  Writer Eric Prisbell spoke with Trudy Ransom, Faulcon’s mother, who said that her son and Thomas had no relationship.  “I don’t know why (Thomas) says he has a relationship with my son,” Ransom said.  “I won’t comment about P.J. Hairston.  I will let this play out in court and I hope the innocent will remain innocent.”
Another potential ramification of the parking tickets dealt with the time frame of the dates.  The earliest on-campus citations were issued on February 21st, which was still during UNC’s 2012-13 basketball season.  The Tar Heels would go on to win four more regular season games, two ACC Tournament games, and one NCAA Tournament contest.  If Hairston had indeed been driving one of those rental vehicles when it was ticketed on February 21st, that would constitute an impermissible benefit – and make him ineligible for the remaining games on the team’s schedule.  That would also retroactively vacate those seven victories should the NCAA choose to pursue the matter. 
* * *
            The next big revelation would come two days later, and it would almost completely shatter the earlier statements given by Haydn Thomas.  The felon’s contention was that the rented Yukon had been for Mykael Faulcon, and that Thomas did not know P.J. Hairston.  The Raleigh News and Observer entered the fray in a big way via a July 12, 2013, article, providing evidence that discredited those earlier statements. 
            The newspaper had obtained a detailed police report into the Durham traffic stop and arrest of Hairston, which also included interviews with Hairston and the two other young men who had been with him at the time.  The report revealed that Hairston told police he had switched places with a passenger to try to avoid a citation of driving without a license; he admitted to being a “recreational” marijuana user; and perhaps most importantly he said that he had been given the rental car to go to Atlanta and see friends.  As the paper pointed out, the details within the police report directly countered claims by Haydn Thomas.  In it, Hairston admitted via interviews with the police that he received the vehicle “from Fats.”
            The detailed report revealed numerous contradictions from earlier statements, and also pointedly confirmed (by Hairston’s own admission) that the vehicle had been rented for him, and not Mykael Faulcon.  Haydn Thomas had told USA Today a week earlier that he didn’t know Hairston, but he later told the N&O that he knew UNC athletes through parties.  Thomas could not be reached for comment for the July 12 article.  Considering the multiple contradictions that were now on record, any statements by him likely would have been viewed as extremely questionable, regardless.
* * *
            Just over a week later it was announced that all charges against Hairston related to the arrest in Durham had been dismissed, with no further explanation given by the police.  In a July 22, 2013, article in USA Today Sports, UNC Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said that the school had no update on Hairston’s status with the program in light of the charges being dropped.  At the time the university had still taken no disciplinary action against the star player.  In a written statement by head basketball coach Roy Williams, he said: “Other issues have been written about recently that are disturbing and bother me deeply.  Our basketball program is based on great ideals and these issues are embarrassing.  These are not common in my 10 years as head coach at UNC and they will all be dealt with harshly and appropriately at the correct time to ensure that our program will not be compromised.”  Oddly, the charges against Hairston’s two passengers during the June 5 arrest apparently weren’t dropped.  Furthermore, Haydn Thomas told USA Today Sports that he had yet to be contacted by either the NCAA or UNC.
* * *
            Despite somehow escaping any legal consequences from the drug and gun incident in Durham, less than a week later Hairston found himself in trouble with the law yet again.  On July 28, 2013, he was pulled over for travelling 93 mph in a 65 mph zone and cited for speeding and careless and reckless driving.  Following Hairston’s third legal infraction in just over three months, UNC apparently could no longer dodge taking disciplinary action.  Basketball coach Roy Williams announced later on the evening of the 28th that he was indefinitely suspending Hairston.  According to a July 29, 2013, article by USA Today Sports, the university’s three-sentence press released cited only the most recent traffic citation, as opposed to including the other questionable events that had festered since late May.
            More troubling connections emerged in August regarding Hairston and his possible impermissible use of vehicles, further clouding the guard’s future eligibility at UNC.  In an August 9, 2013, article by Associated Press writer Aaron Beard, university records that had been recently released showed that a rental car driven by Hairston also had a dozen campus parking citations over a two-month period.  The vehicle was the 2012 Camaro in which Hairston had been charged with speeding in May.  The parking violations stretched as far back as April 1, 2013.  Additionally, the majority of the violations were new information, and above and beyond what USA Today had reported in its July 10 article.
            As if there were any questions whether Hairston (or another basketball player) had accumulated the tickets, three of the citations were issued while the Camaro was parked near the Smith Center and Hairston’s dorm, the A.P. article stated.  In addition to the tickets for the Camaro, a 2009 Porsche Cayenne registered to Catinia Farrington was twice cited for campus parking violations.  As noted earlier, Farrington, who shared an address with Haydn Thomas, had been the official renter of the Camaro when Hairston had received his first speeding ticket in May.
* * *
            By mid-August there was little doubt that Hairston had received impermissible benefits.  The biggest unanswered question was why, and whether there was the possibility of a deeper and more coordinated system of benefits for UNC athletes.  Possible theories began to take shape based on several sources of information.  The first clue initially seemed unrelated.  Pictures of fellow basketball player Leslie McDonald had surfaced over the summer showing him using a custom mouth guard in UNC basketball games.  Upon further inspection, his name had also appeared on the website of “Iceberg” mouth guards.  When information of this potential impermissible benefit began to show up on social media sites, UNC sent a “cease and desist” order to the company, telling it to not reference McDonald on its website.  Interesting connections would then be pieced together via public records, however.
            The parent company of the custom mouth guards, ICEBerg Holdings LLC, had filed its Articles of Organization in the State of North Carolina in April of 2013.  The executors were Lee Gause and Spencer Howard.  Gause was a New York based dentist, and Howard was a dentist working in Durham, NC.  Gause earned his undergraduate degree from UNC, while Howard was a graduate of the university’s School of Dentistry.
            Further background on the two men showed that Spencer Howard was associated with several other businesses in NC.  Howard was a co-incorporator of the Durham business Kairobi Exotic Rentals and Transport, Inc.  The man who was the other co-incorporator was Haydn Thomas – the convicted felon who was tied to P.J. Hairston and the multiple rental vehicles.  The connections did not stop there, however.  Haydn Thomas was also the registered agent for the then-dissolved business Six Sigma Consulting.  Public documents showed the business’s address as 415 Dunstan Avenue in Durham.  Various online references showed that address as also being associated with Spencer Howard.  Furthermore, Haydn Thomas was also listed as the registered agent for the “Spencer B. Howard Dds Pa 401k Profit Sharing Plan and Trust,” and Thomas also showed up in various online pictures of Howard’s Durham office, with the felon appearing to have an on-site desk and work area.
            The connections, all verifiable through public documents, were potentially damning.  P.J. Hairston, who chose to return to UNC for his junior season instead of entering the NBA, on multiple occasions used rental vehicles connected to Haydn Thomas, a convicted felon.  Hayden Thomas had multiple business connections with UNC Dental School alumnus Spencer Howard.  Howard was co-executor of the Iceguard company with Lee Gause, another UNC alumnus.  The Iceguard company had not only supplied UNC basketball player Leslie McDonald with benefits, but also used his name on its website – while McDonald was an amateur NCAA athlete. 
            Speculation on social media began to ask questions of the UNC School of Dentistry, and what role (if any) it and some of its other alumni might have played in the providing of benefits to UNC athletes.  As was covered in an earlier chapter, Tami Hansbrough had first worked for the Dental Foundation before getting a more prestigious job by way of Matt Kupec.  However, as was also importantly noted in that chapter, the Dental Foundation had refused to release certain documents under a public request law, saying that it was a private entity.  So whether there was any level of corruptness with regards to the foundation, its alumni, and athletes would remain unknown – unless the NCAA chose to piece together the evidence and find out for itself.
* * *
The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- How long had Hairston – and potentially other UNC basketball players – been using rental vehicles supplied by boosters?
-- Why did the NCAA choose to not pursue the possibility of vacated wins from UNC’s 2012-13 basketball season, despite strong evidence that eligibility rules had been broken?
-- Why did the Durham police department drop Hairston’s charges, but apparently not those of his two passengers?

-- Based on business connections with felon Haydn Thomas, was there a deeper connection between UNC athletes and university alumni Spencer Howard and Lee Gause regarding impermissible benefits?