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Miami pledges full probe of ex-booster's bombshell

By the CNN Wire Staff
A former booster says for eight years he showered dozens of Miami players with cash and gifts and also supplied prostitutes.
A former booster says for eight years he showered dozens of Miami players with cash and gifts and also supplied prostitutes.
  • NEW: Sportswriter says documents and players back up Shapiro's claims
  • Miami's president says the university will seek the truth "wherever that path may lead"
  • The NCAA says it has been investigating the allegations for five months
  • The ex-booster is now serving a 20-year prison term for fraud

(CNN) -- The University of Miami says it's cooperating with an investigation into claims by an imprisoned former booster that he spent millions on improper gifts, entertainment and travel for Hurricanes athletes.

"We will vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead, and I have insisted upon complete, honest, and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students," the school's president, Donna Shalala wrote in an open letter Wednesday.

Shalala said she was "upset, disheartened and saddened" by the allegations leveled by Nevin Shapiro, a onetime Miami businessman now serving a 20-year federal prison term for fraud. Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that he showered dozens of Miami players with cash and jewelry, paid restaurant and nightclub tabs and supplied prostitutes over an 8-year period -- and that several coaches were aware of the activity.

Shapiro was arrested in 2010 on charges of overseeing a Ponzi scheme that prosecutors eventually determined had totaled $930 million. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering that September, and his accusations against Miami were part of his agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, his lawyer told CNN's "Newsroom."

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"They asked him to cooperate and come clean about what he did in his case and what other things he had done with his money, which was actually investor money," the lawyer, Maria Elena Perez, said. "And that's when all of these matters regarding his relationship with the University of Miami and his financial relationship with the players came to be."

Charles Robinson, who interviewed Shapiro for Yahoo! Sports, called Shapiro "a mixed bag as a human being," but documents and former players have backed up some of his allegations.

"I think that he did it because he felt like it was something that, you know, would not be stopped -- it would not be discovered," Robinson told CNN. "And frankly, I don't think he saw the harm in it, showing guys a good time and doling out benefits that he thought they deserved anyway because they're producing millions of dollars playing football for the University of Miami."

The NCAA, which regulates college sports, said it has been investigating Shapiro's claims for five months. NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a written statement that if true, the allegations show the need for "serious and fundamental change" in college sports, especially regarding the conduct of boosters and agents.

The Hurricanes open their football season September 5 against Maryland. Head Coach Al Golden, who was picked to lead the team in December, told reporters before practice Wednesday that he wanted to clear up the matter "as quickly as we can."

"This is a very complicated issue obviously, because of the source and because of the allegations," Golden said. "But again, I'm here to get to the bottom of it."

"It's really important to understand that we have a lot of guys in that locker room that do things the right way, that come from great families and have made good decisions," he added.