1978-1979 Boston College Point Shaving Scandal: The ‘worst fix ever’Stories
Let’s be honest, match fixing in team sports is still alive. However, it was present much more in the 1970s, the golden age of the Italian-American Mafia and organized crime in general. When the Boston College point shaving scandal was revealed in 1980, the public was shocked. We were talking about amateur college athletes that were making money by fixing matches. Of course, the organizers and many others have earned even more from this illegal activity. By the way, did you know that nearly exactly 100 years before this scandal there was another big sports scandal in Baseball that made headlines in the US? We’re talking about the Louisville Grays scandal which you should check out too.
Simply put, this scheme was designed by a few American mobsters and executed with the help of several Boston College Eagles men’s basketball players, including Rick Kuhn. The main objective was to avoid covering the point spread suggested by the bookies. Some bettors that were involved in the process have reportedly won tens of thousands of dollars.
Two brothers and low-ranking mafia members and gamblers were the masterminds behind the Boston College point shaving scandal. Rocco and Anthony Perla have used the hot summer months of 1978 to develop a clever plan focused on match fixing. They have figured out that they can earn big money on betting if they bribe several college players. The fact that Rocco knew Richard Kuhn from his high-school days made the plan easier. Luckily, Rick Kuhn was interested too.
After a short period, Rick Kuhn contacted Jim Sweeny, the team’s captain. What’s worth mentioning is that they didn’t want to fix all matches, only the ones where the Boston College Eagles team was a favorite. This means that the point spread was big and the only thing that Kuhn should do is ensure that the team doesn’t meet the point spread. For instance, when the point spread was ten points in favor of the Boston College Eagles, Rick did his best to make sure that the team didn’t win by nine points or less. He received a fixed amount of money for his effort (around $9000 today).
After they’ve recruited the main players, the Perla brothers have made a business relationship with Paul Mazzei, a well-known name in the world of gambling, at least in New York. He could get in touch with Henry Hill, an American mobster who worked for the Lucchese crime family. Hill led them to another Lucchese crime family associate – James Burke, a.k.a. Jimmy the Gent. This man oversaw the payments, and he also created a network of bookies who knew about the criminal scheme. The reason for the creation of this network was simple. If you place large amounts of money on seemingly illogical bets, no bookmaker will accept them. That’s why they have used the network to place smaller bets across America. On top of that, if anything goes wrong (bookmakers that refuse to pay the winnings), they had the support of the mobsters and thugs.
All these people (except for Burke and Hill) met in Boston on November 16, 1978, for the first time. Rick Kuhn has confirmed that he and several other players are on board. One of the things that attracted the players was shaving points, not losing the games.
The match fixing
So, after a few months, the first fixed match from the Boston College point shaving scandal was about to start. Boston College played against Providence on December 6 back in 1978. The point spread was set at six to seven points. Even though Richard Kuhn tried to make the team win with fewer points, the result was different. Namely, the team won by 19 points. The Perla Brothers and the rest of the mobsters were mad, but they have also realized that they needed more players on their side to make this plan work. Rumors are that Kuhn tried to recruit Ernie Cobb, the player who scored the most in that game, but in the end, there was no evidence that this player worked for the mafia. Meanwhile, Hill (instructed by Burke) threatened players who have previously confirmed that they’ll provide the desired result.
It seems that the combo of threats and new recruitments was working because the match against Harvard was a success. It was played on December 16, and Boston College won by just three points, although it was expected to win with twelve or more points. The players got their money, and so did the mobsters. A week later, there was another successful match, this time against UCLA. In this case, UCLA was the favorite (15 to 18-point spread). So, the Boston College players were asked to lose with even more points which they did (22 points). This was a massive success because the mafiosos have invested a lot of money in this match.
At this point, some bookmakers have become suspicious. The men involved in the scheme were quite experienced, and that’s why they have made changes to their plan. So, they have asked players to do their best to cover the spread in matches where the Eagles were the better team. For instance, in their game against Connecticut, played on January 17, 1979, Boston College was given a 5-point spread, but they’ve won by 10 points. In other words, the mission was accomplished.
As we said before, a few of them involved in this process came from New York, where they worked for the Lucchese crime family. That’s why they thought that it would be a good idea to invest more in the matches between Boston College and two basketball teams based in New York City played in February 1979. In addition, they knew that gambling and betting were booming in New York and that bookies were accepting large stakes. For the first match against Fordham, they’ve decided to use the original plan. Boston College was a 10-point favorite, and they won by just 7 points. The game against St. John’s was neither successful nor unsuccessful. This match was a push which means that they’ve got their bets back.
To get even more from this strategy, they focused on the match against Holy Cross played on February 10. It was a match between two old rivals, and people usually placed many bets, some of them enormous. The mobsters have used this hoping to win even more. In this case, Holy Cross was a better team on paper. It was a 7-point favorite, So, they’ve asked the Boston College players to lose by more than 7 points. In the end, Holy Cross won by 2 points. What’s interesting is that Cobb scored 8 points in the last minute. He was obviously not involved in the scheme, at least not in this match.
According to Hill, Burke lost around 50 grand ($180,000 today). However, it’s believed that the involved parties made a profit in the end. The match with Holy Cross was the last in this scheme. Burke was planning a punishment for the players, but eventually, he let them go. That’s probably because he won more than he lost.
The funny thing is that the Boston College point shaving scandal was uncovered indirectly. Henry Hill was arrested on drug trafficking charges in New York. The investigation led the detectives to the Lufthansa heist and the shaving scandal too. Faced with the evidence, Hill made a deal with the authorities. He provided evidence that helped the authorities charge Burke and members of the Lucchese family. One of the things that made the police suspicious was the trips Hill made to Boston that didn’t make much sense to them.
Just because Hill avoided prison, this doesn’t mean that the rest of the team was free. On the contrary, a grand jury indicted the Perla brothers, Rick Kuhn, Paul Mazzei, and James Burke. The trial took place in 1981. The jury has listened to the testimony of Henry Hill, but also of three other people (two Boston College basketball players) and Richard Kuhn’s girlfriend. Additionally, the prosecutor managed to get confessions from Tony Perla and Rick Kuhn. All these things and the telephone records have made it easier for the jury to decide.
The trial lasted for a month, and the defendants were charged for criminal conspiracy. James Burke, the notorious mobster, got 12 years for this crime. Richard Kuhn got 10 years. Tony Perla and Paul Mazzei got 10 years too, while Rocco Perla for four features. Cobb and Sweeny (basketball players) were acquitted. It’s good to know that Kuhn got his sentence reduced to 4 years.
A total of nine games were fixed, four of which brought them money, three were lost, and two ended in a push.
The Boston College point shaving scandal was not a success for those involved, and it’s not just because they were caught. They managed to fix just four out of nine matches in the way they wanted. These activities required a lot of planning and effort from the mobsters and from the players too. One of the main reasons that they failed was the lousy strategy. They couldn’t rely on just a player or two in a team with five players. Also, this team sport has 5 equal players. The situation is slightly different in soccer, for example, where you have a goalie playing a vital role in the game.
Even after decades of the Boston College point shaving scandal, people are still interested in this story. This is the reason why David Porter, an award-winning journalist, wrote a book dedicated to this scandal called Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball. These events were described in The Lufthansa Heist by Henry Hill and Daniel Simone too. That’s right, Henry Hill made money by co-authoring a book dedicated to his crime. Finally, we have the 30 for 30 series by ESPN and the Playing for the mob episode where this story is described in detail.