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"It is the most blatantly un-American thing ever," says Thomas Gallion, a lawyer who represented both Bama coaches. "The NCAA, they were one of the more corrupt, blatantly — for lack of a better word — Hitleristic organizations I've ever seen."
Johanningmeier is also currently the target in another lawsuit stemming from an investigation in 2003 into then-Mississippi State University Coach Jackie Sherrill. "Johanningmeier did a lot of things in our investigation which were not right," says the now-retired coach's attorney, Wayne Ferrell. "The information from the University of Miami is very interesting. It's the exact same thing that he did in this investigation and in the Alabama investigation."
In 2002, the NCAA began probing MSU's program over alleged recruiting violations. Again, Johanningmeier and other NCAA investigators pulled information from a source with a clear bias. This time, the secret witness was a University of Mississippi booster named Julie Gilbert, according to the lawsuit.
In December 2003, MSU and Sherrill were handed notices of allegations. Among accusations of impermissible contact and illegal expenses for recruits, the most damning claim alleged that coach Sherrill promised a high schooler a car if he attended the school. As evidence, the report referenced a conversation between the coach and the student's grandfather.
But the family countered the claim, adding that the NCAA investigator knew it was false before making an official charge. According to affidavits included in a defamation lawsuit Sherrill filed in 2004 against the NCAA and Johanningmeier, three of the student's family members said their testimony was misused.
"This allegation is false, and I have told the NCAA investigator, Richard A. Johanningmeier, that it was false," the grandfather wrote in his statement. "I would also like to point out in my opinion that my family and I were deliberately deceived by Richard Johanningmeier into believing that any statements to him regarding our involvement in the interview process and/or investigation of Mississippi State University would not be disclosed, at any time... My family's statements have been twisted and untruthfully stated."
The case has yet to go to trial.
This was the ethical baggage Johanningmeier brought to the Miami investigation. The NCAA began looking into UM after convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro claimed he'd lavished money and gifts on UM players and recruits for more than a decade.
According to the NCAA's report on the investigation, Johanningmeier quarterbacked much of the important early action. Shapiro's first contact with the NCAA came in the form of a jailhouse letter addressed to Johanningmeier in February 2011. He and fellow investigator Ameen Najjar visited the con artist in jail throughout spring 2011. At one point, Johanningmeier purchased a disposable cell phone to communicate with Shapiro and also put more than $4,500 into his prison commissary account.
The investigator was also in contact with Maria Elena Perez, Shapiro's attorney. When Perez offered to use Shapiro's bankruptcy hearings to help the NCAA's case, she emailed her offer to Johanningmeier. NCAA records indicate the investigator formed the questions Perez would ask in those depositions.
Johanningmeier worked the investigation until retiring in May 2012. Najjar was fired around the same time. That December, news leaked out that NCAA investigators had gone to unethical lengths to gather information in the case by using Perez. The NCAA commissioned a report on the flawed probe in late 2012. But in the concluding report, Johanningmeier skirted most blame. Najjar was fingered as responsible, and the organization's vice president of enforcement, Julie Roe Lach, lost her job.
"Mr. Johanningmeier retired in May 2012 without any inkling that Ms. Perez's proposal could cause a problem for the NCAA," the report says. "He still maintains that there has been an overreaction to the issue."