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Ex-NBA ref gets 15 months for betting

  • Story Highlights
  • Disgraced former NBA ref blames crimes on his gambling addiction
  • Ex-referee Donaghy had entered a guilty plea in August
  • Donaghy apologizes, says he had "brought shame upon himself"
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal judge Tuesday sentenced disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy to more than a year in prison for wagering on professional basketball games -- conduct that Donaghy claims stemmed from his gambling addiction.

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy arrives at the courthouse for his sentencing hearing Tuesday.

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy arrives at the courthouse for his sentencing hearing Tuesday.

Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release -- less than the maximum penalty of 33 months, or nearly three years, in prison.

He pleaded guilty in August to charges of engaging in wire fraud and transmitting wagering information to other individuals. In entering his plea, the 13-year veteran referee -- who was making $260,000 a year when he quit -- told the Brooklyn judge he did so to pay for his severe gambling addiction.

"I think the judge, by deviating substantially from the guidelines, recognized the efforts that (Donaghy) made to restore his integrity and do the right thing," defense attorney John Lauro said after the sentencing. Video Watch the disgraced ref walk out of court »

During the hearing, held in a packed courtroom, Donaghy apologized, saying he had "brought shame upon himself."

Prosecutors said Donaghy was paid for providing co-conspirators with winning picks based on classified information he received as an NBA official. Donaghy used code language to tip off the co-conspirators, authorities said. As part of his plea agreement, Donaghy pledged to cooperate in other ongoing investigations surrounding organized crime members and gambling on professional sports.

Defense attorneys claimed that Donaghy's addiction was "a mental illness." The judge said the addiction was not a reason to reduce his sentence but acknowledged Donaghy's cooperation has been helpful, even if it has not led to any more prosecutions.

"He was part of a pattern of behavior that is illegal, is very wrong and sets a very poor example for others, particularly for those who watch the NBA," said Michael McCann, legal analyst for SI.com, a CNN network site.

"The big issue here is one of gamesmanship," he said. "It's one of sportsmanship. The idea (is) that our games are supposedly real, based on actual events, and not scripted -- unlike entertainment events, such as (professional) wrestling."

The NBA has denied that Donaghy's conduct is part of a larger problem within the league, despite his accusations to the contrary. "On behalf of my officials, I'd like to tell you that they don't engage in the criminal conduct of which Mr. Donaghy has accused them," league Commissioner David Stern has said.

NBA Referees' Association spokesman Lamell McMorris, in a written statement at the time of Donaghy's guilty plea, said, "We recognize that a cloud has descended upon all referees, but we are committed to showing the public that this was an isolated event and that NBA officiating is conducted at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and fairness."

Defense attorney Lauro was critical of the NBA.

"The bottom line is that the government, and I believe the NBA, is fully aware of all of the basis of the cooperation that Mr. Donaghy provided," Lauro said. "And the NBA has done nothing except criticize the messenger."

This month, the NBA hired a retired two-star general with no league ties as its senior vice president for referee operations.

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Two of Donaghy's co-conspirators were high school chums who met with him in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in December 2006, prosecutors have said. The men -- James Battista and Thomas Martino -- agreed to pay the referee $2,000 for each winning pick. Later, the men increased the amount to $5,000 per winning pick because Donaghy's tips were so accurate, authorities said.

Battista and Martino were sentenced last week to more than year in prison. The two, along with Donaghy, must also pay the NBA more than $200,000 in restitution.

CNN's Terence Burke and Richard Roth contributed to this report.

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