April 7, 2013

AP source: FBI eyes possible extortion at Rutgers

By GEOFF MULVIHILL, The Associated Press

The FBI is investigating whether a former Rutgers basketball employee tried to extort the university before he made videos that showed ex-coach Mike Rice shoving and kicking players and berating them with gay slurs.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Sunday that investigators are interested in Eric Murdock, who left his job as the men's basketball program's player development director last year and later provided the video to university officials and ESPN.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiry has not been announced. The investigation was first reported by The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the FBI's Newark office said the agency would not say whether there is an investigation. Murdock's lawyer did not return a call to the AP on Sunday. A Rutgers spokesman referred questions to the FBI.

A December letter from Eric Murdock's lawyer to a lawyer representing Rutgers requested $950,000 to settle employment issues and said that if the university did not agree by Jan. 4, Murdock was prepared to file a lawsuit. The letter was obtained last week by the AP and other media outlets.

No settlement has been made. The video became public last week, and Murdock on Friday filed a lawsuit against the university, contending he was fired because he was a whistleblower trying to bring to light Rice's behavior.

The video's release last week set off a chain reaction that led to Rice's firing and the resignations of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, the university's top in-house lawyer and an assistant basketball coach. Some critics want the university's president, Robert Barchi, to resign.

At a news conference last week, Barchi said the firing and resignations likely never would have happened unless Murdock provided the video to ESPN. Barchi said he did not see the video himself until after it had been made public.

Murdock, a New Jersey native who played for seven NBA teams from 1991 to 2000, was on the initial staff Rice assembled when he became the Rutgers coach in 2010. He left the team last year, though there are conflicting stories about the circumstances.

Murdock has said Rice fired him after he skipped a session of Rice's summer basketball camp, but has said he was targeted because he had spoken with others about Rice's conduct at practice. The university found in a report that Murdock was not actually fired and that he could have continued working at the school.

After Murdock left, he spoke with university officials about his allegations against Rice. He also used an open public records request to obtain hundreds of hours of videos of basketball practice. It's not clear who shot the original footage, but it was edited into the half-hour video later given to the university that touched off a scandal last week.

The university report on Rice, which was completed in December but not made public until Friday, criticized the video provided by Murdock as taken many situations out of context. While the report found fault with Rice's behavior in several instances, it also said he did not create a hostile work environment, as Murdock had suggested.

The report also said that Murdock had claimed some violations of NCAA rules - including that he and others in the program paid players - but he did not provide evidence.

After a review, university officials agreed to suspend Rice without pay for three games, fine him $50,000, send him to anger-management counseling and monitor his behavior.

Barchi said when he first saw the video last week he immediately decided Rice could not continue as coach.

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