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Tim Donaghy, former NBA ref, talks challenges of post-prison life

11:09 PM, Aug 1, 2011   |    comments
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SARASOTA, Florida - He served time for gambling on the NBA and underwent treatment for pathological gambling disorder.  But former referee Tim Donaghy is trying to get his life back on track by doing what he knows best - helping gamblers win big.

After getting out of prison in November 2009 for providing inside tips on games, Donaghy released "Personal Foul," his tell-all book that was supposed to shake up the NBA and help him get back on his feet.  But neither happened.

Donaghy, 44, hasn't seen a penny of revenue from the book's first printing because of a legal spat with the Largo-based publisher, and he says the NBA hasn't changed the way it operates, either.

But Donaghy, who lives in a family member's condo in Sarasota, says he is still capitalizing on the NBA's methods: He's making ends meet as an oddsmaker's consultant.

When the former ref got out of prison, he said he sent hundreds of resumes out and didn't receive a single job offer until Danny Berrelli reached out to him.  Berrelli makes gambling predictions on his website, DannyBWins.com.  Donaghy talks to him daily, sharing his knowledge about the NBA and other sports.  He also writes blogs, records podcasts, and makes radio appearances for Berrelli.

But Donaghy, who underwent court-mandated treatment for his gambling addiction after serving most of a 15-month prison sentence, says he's toeing a fine line rather than going down a slippery slope.

"It's different (than what I was convicted for) because I'm not placing bets now," Donaghy said.  "I realize in the past that I couldn't gamble responsibly.  It's something that caused a lot of damage in my life and the lives of my daughters. So, it's something I'm not going to go back to."

Donaghy was making actual predictions for Berrelli and says he was nearly perfect late in the NBA season until his probation officer told him to stop.  So now he just advises Berrelli on how he can advise his clients. 

"It's a situation where I can always look back and see the destruction (gambling) caused," Donaghy said, mentioning his damaged relationship with his four daughters.  "So, I'm going to be very careful moving forward."

Donaghy admitted the new career wasn't his first choice, but it's been hard to make ends meet without a reliable source of income and four girls - ages 15, 13, 12, and 9 - to support.

"There's bills that have to be paid every month and you don't want to come up short," he said.  "I expected the book 'Personal Foul' to kind of pull me out of the hole a little bit, but unfortunately...the woman who was publishing the book hasn't paid me."

Donaghy and his former publisher, Shawna Vercher of VTI Media, will go to court over royalties from his book.  Vercher said the government demanded all royalties to satisfy Donaghy's $195,000 restitution to the NBA.  But Donaghy says she was only ordered to put 15 percent of royalties toward restitution; 85 percent was supposed to go to Donaghy.

Donaghy recently republished the book himself and says it's now up to its fifth printing.  He reports getting positive e-mails from all over the country after people read it, which mirrors the positive reception he gets around the Sarasota and Bradenton communities.  But one of his biggest surprises is how little has changed in the NBA since he blew his whistle on the action off the court.

"I thought there was going to be an enormous amount of change in the NBA," he said.  "The NBA came out and said everyone plays under the same set of rules."

But Donaghy has published numerous video blogs about how refs give stars like LeBron James preferential treatment.  Noticing those trends is what makes him valuable to an oddsmaker.

And when his probation ends in late 2012, he says he may get more involved in the gambling industry.

"I would say there's a strong possibility Danny B. and I will be somewhere making predictions."

Connect with 10 News Reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky or Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky.  Read his Sports Business blog, Shadow of the Stadium.  Or send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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