COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus lawyer who tipped off Ohio State coach Jim Tressel that two of his players were involved in a federal drug trafficking case has received death threats and now says he regrets ever contacting the Buckeyes coach.
“I’m not the Judas in this situation. You know, I feel like Peter, but I’m not the Judas,” attorney Christopher Cicero said in an interview Friday with ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” and reported on ESPN.com.
Tressel has admitted he violated NCAA rules for not disclosing information Cicero e-mailed to him. He repeatedly refrained from telling Ohio State’s compliance department or his superiors about potential NCAA bylaw violations involving some of his players.
Tressel has been suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season and must pay a $250,000 fine. The NCAA could levy additional penalties on Tressel. The coach received a resounding vote of confidence from athletic director Gene Smith and Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee at a news conference on Tuesday night.
In the first e-mail from Cicero, at 2:32 p.m. on April 2, 2010, Cicero said that Ohio State players were giving autographed Buckeyes football shirts, jerseys and footballs to a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner who was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney in a drug-trafficking case.
“Just passing this on to you,” Cicero wrote.
Exactly four hours later, Tressel replied: “Thanks. I will get on it ASAP.”
However, the coach did not tell Smith or anyone in his compliance department until officials presented him with the e-mails in January — more than nine months after star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four teammates were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling signed jerseys and gloves along with championship rings and trophies for money in addition to getting discounts on tattoos.
Cicero said he had received death threats in the past few days since his role in Tressel’s NCAA violation came to light. Yahoo! Sports first reported on Monday that Tressel had prior knowledge of the improper benefits involving his players.
“I wanted him to know that the kids had been hanging out with a person who was the subject of a federal investigation,” Cicero said when asked why he told Tressel about the players’ relationship with Eddie Rife, the owner of the tattoo parlor. “As a result of that, I also heard that they had been exchanging memorabilia with this particular person. And I outlined that in the e-mail. I threw it out there, quite frankly, it was just to tell him (Tressel) that that’s what it was.”
Tressel said at Tuesday’s news conference that he did not disclose the information from Cicero because he was concerned about preserving the confidentiality of a federal drug investigation. But Tressel never spoke to any federal agents about the matter and Cicero did not ask him to keep the information to himself until an e-mail on April 16 in which Cicero said he had spoken to Rife in his office the night before.
Cicero is a former walk-on football player at Ohio State in the 1980s when Earle Bruce was the head coach. He did not immediately return a call from the Associated Press seeking comment.
In the same e-mail, Cicero wrote, “These kids are selling these items for not that much and I can’t understand how they could give something so precious away like their trophies and rings that they worked so hard for.”
Tressel signed an NCAA Certificate of Compliance Form — on which indicated he had no knowledge of any possible NCAA violations — on Sept. 13, 2010. He also did not report the information he had received from Cicero when university officials told him on Dec. 9 that players had sold memorabilia to Rife and that the U.S. Attorney was pursuing a case against Rife. On Dec. 16, Tressel was asked if he had been contacted on the memorabilia matter and he replied “that while he received a tip about general rumors pertaining to certain of his players, that information had not been specific, and it pertained to their off-field choices,” the university said in its formal letter to the NCAA regarding Tressel’s violation.
During Tuesday night’s news conference, Tressel said, “I don’t think less of myself at this moment. I felt at the time as if I was doing the right thing for the safety of the young people and the overall situation.”
Ohio State has appealed the suspensions of the five players who are set to miss the first five games of the 2011 season. The others are also important players for the Buckeyes: starting receiver DeVier Posey, leading rusher Dan “Boom” Herron, first-string offensive lineman Mike Adams and backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
With Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney weighing in on behalf of Ohio State and the five players, the NCAA permitted all five to play in the Buckeyes’ 31-26 Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas with their suspensions not starting until the following season.
Cicero confirmed on ESPN that the two players originally involved in the memorabilia sale were Pryor and Posey.
It was while assembling information to appeal their suspension that Ohio State officials discovered the e-mails between Cicero and Tressel — and first confronted the coach.
Asked what Tressel should have done with the e-mailed information, Cicero said, “The heck with coach Tressel. If I had to do it all over again at the end of the day, I’d have never sent him the e-mail(s).”