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"Tennstud" & "Bama Booster"

A story of football, money, justice, and revenge.

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Get ready, Memphis. If Logan Young goes on trial, it could be the most publicized, intriguing, star-studded local courtroom drama since Congressman Harold Ford's trial in 1993.

Like Ford, who was acquitted after being tried twice and investigated for more than a decade by the federal government, Young can afford a first-class defense. He has already hired Nashville lawyer Jim Neal, who has represented such high-profile Tennesseans as George "Dr. Nick" Nichopoulos, politician Jake Butcher, former Governor Ray Blanton, and businessman William B. Tanner in the past.

Witnesses could include a parade of football coaches including University of Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer. The ghost of Young's hero, former Alabama coach Bear Bryant, could even be invoked.

The stakes are high for both Young and U.S. attorney Terrell Harris and assistant U.S. attorney Fred Godwin. Young could go to prison for 15 years if he is convicted or if, like his accuser Lynn Lang, he changes his story and pleads guilty. At this point that seems highly unlikely. Young has professed his innocence since the accusations were first made three years ago and he entered a plea of innocent last week. Contacted by the Flyer this week, he said he will fight the charges "as long as it takes."

Federal prosecutors, assisted by Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons' staff, have a lot at risk as well. Along with the FBI, they have spent three years investigating the recruiting of a single high school football player, Albert Means, at a time when the country is on terror alert and Memphis is afflicted with the usual mayhem and skullduggery. The NCAA has already severely punished Young and the University of Alabama, making Gibbons' statement in 2001 that "we are sending a clear message that the sale of high school athletes for personal gain will not be tolerated" somewhat redundant.

Asked this week if the recruiting climate in Memphis is any different today than it was five years ago before the Means story broke, East High School Coach Wayne Randall said, "No, absolutely not."

Randall, whose reputation is unblemished, usually has one of the strongest teams in the state, and several East players have gone on to play major college football.

"The money is still there," he said. "People are just more careful about who's involved. College football is a business, and to win you have to have the best players. Some people are going to do whatever it takes to get them."

There is no clear victim in the case. Means was allowed to transfer without missing a beat and is now playing football for the University of Memphis. Lang, his former coach at Trezevant High School, and assistant coach Milton Kirk have already pled guilty to federal racketeering charges. By their admission, Lang was the one approaching college coaches near and far with his $200,000 (the amount varied) shakedown. Young did not approach Lang or set the price. At worst, he overpaid an admitted football pimp.

Former federal prosecutor Arthur Kahn, who is familiar with the Means case, said prosecutors will "certainly" have to produce hard evidence and probably fresh witnesses to buttress the accusations of Lang and Kirk. He added, however, that racketeering cases require approval from higher-ups in the Department of Justice, indicating prosecutors are confident they can win.

Assuming the charges are not dismissed, a trial is several months or even years away. Neal said the defense team will seek access to, among other things, records from the NCAA's investigation of Young which have so far been refused.

"They have stonewalled us," he told the Flyer this week.

While prosecutors often wear down lesser defendants like Lang, who was represented by a public defender, Young can afford the carrying costs of delay. A year ago it became public in another lawsuit that he had invested over $4 million in a single failed investment scheme.

How did this case get to federal court anyway? The answer offers a glimpse of the inner workings of the media, the power of Internet gossip, the fanaticism of some football boosters, and, as always, Memphis politics.

From Internet Gossip to Book

It was the buzz that drew Richard Ernsberger Jr. to look into football recruiting in Memphis.

After 14 years in New York City and Tokyo writing stories for Newsweek, the University of Tennessee graduate was back in the South working on a book about Southeastern Conference football.

Nearly everywhere he went in the fall of 1999, the scuttlebutt was that Memphis was the Southern sewer of recruiting corruption. The son of a star UT football player and a former UT baseball player himself, Ernsberger is far from naive. But he had never seen anything quite like it. The allegations about inner-city high school coaches in Memphis brokering star players for cash were eye-opening enough, but the forum for hashing them out was a story in itself: the obsessive, overwrought, occasionally over-the-top world of Internet message boards like Gridscape.com and Tiderinsider.com.

As he followed the football season, the names of two aging, fanatical Memphis boosters kept coming up. One was Alabama super-fan Young, a wealthy businessman with an erratic reputation and ties to the late legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant. The other was Roy Adams, an equally avid Tennessee booster and a garrulous sort who had become infatuated with fan forums on the Internet. Once they had been friends and drinking buddies, but years ago they fell out and were now sworn enemies.

"They are quintessential Southern characters with probably too much money and certainly too much time on their hands," Ernsberger said in an interview. "That's really what I was interested in as much as the Albert Means recruiting saga. They proved to be every bit as colorful as I expected them to be."

Ernsberger devoted an entire chapter to Young and Adams in his book Bragging Rights: A Season Inside the SEC. His research in Memphis and his contacts with coaches in places like Knoxville and Oxford pointed him toward a second Memphis story -- the unorthodox recruiting of Means, a highly regarded lineman from Trezevant High School.

"I had heard a lot of stories," said Ernsberger. "Ole Miss treated the Albert Means situation as like, 'duh, you think this is new stuff?'"

The relationship between Means and Lynn Lang, who seemed to live large for someone on a teacher's salary, became another chapter. It ended with this cryptic message:

"Or is there, as many SEC folk suspect, something rotten in Memphis? Will we ever know the truth? As they say on The X-files, the truth is out there."

Bragging Rights was published in December, 2000. If the truth was still "out there," at least the story of Logan Young, Roy Adams, Lynn Lang, and Albert Means was in print. A serious writer had given narrative structure, perspective, details, and credibility to what had previously been rumor, gossip, and anonymous Internet chat. The ripple effect is still being felt.

Blowing the Whistle on "Slave Trading"

Milton Kirk makes only a cameo appearance in Bragging Rights and Ernsberger did not interview him. Kirk was Lang's sidekick and assistant and is the brother of Shelby County Commissioner Cleo Kirk.

Throughout Albert Means' senior year of 1999-2000, Kirk was often at Lang's side, within earshot as he made his pitch to various coaches at Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan State, Tennessee, Memphis, Ole Miss, and Alabama. He was familiar with the details, which allegedly ranged from $200,000 in cash to $50,000-$80,000 in cash along with a house and two cars. Kirk thought he was supposed to get some of the cash himself. When he didn't, he began to complain, first at parties and football gatherings, then to the NCAA in the fall of 2000.

In January 2001, a month after Ernsberger's book was published, Kirk told his story to The Commercial Appeal. In a story by reporter Gary Parrish, Kirk went public with his sensational claim that Lang had shopped Means for $200,000 and been paid to push him to Alabama.

"Parrish read my book and was interested in the subject but did it all on his own and deserves all the credit for talking to Kirk," Ernsberger said. "I did not talk to Kirk. He was in the office when I was at Trezevant but I didn't quote him. He didn't seem like a meaningful figure at the time."

Parrish's scoop drew a huge response from readers and was picked up by regional and national media. At a time when colleges were being busted by the NCAA for giving athletes plane tickets, pocket money, or sneakers, auctioning an unproven high school defensive lineman for $200,000 -- none of which apparently went to the player although some may have gone to his family -- was unprecedented.

Kirk's story, embellished with charges of "slave trading" and belated sentiment for Means' mother who Kirk said was also supposed to be paid, had been hinted at on the Internet for months before the story broke. UT booster Roy Adams, a regular Internet poster under the name "Tennstud," says at least a dozen people heard Kirk make the charge two and a half months before he went public with it. But Adams denies pushing Kirk toward the CA and told the Flyer, in fact, that he advised him to keep it quiet.

For counsel, Kirk turned to Karl Schledwitz, a lawyer turned developer with good political savvy. Schledwitz graduated from Trezevant High School and UT, where he was student government president and a friend of Phillip Fulmer. In a deposition this year, Schledwitz said he and Kirk spoke numerous times to the NCAA in 2000.

If Kirk had not gone to the newspaper, the case might have stayed with the NCAA. Federal and state prosecutors have said they started their investigation after reading Kirk's story in The Commercial Appeal.

In contrast to the cocky, powerfully built Lang, who was a three-year letterman as a defensive lineman at Alcorn State from 1990-1992, Kirk presents an aging, somewhat forlorn appearance and has been given to self-pitying statements about his financial plight and the injustice of it all. His notoriety came with a high price. Since he incriminated himself as well as Lang, Memphis City Schools officials had little choice but to fire him.

His troubles were far from over. On August 29, 2001, he and Lang were indicted on bribery and extortion charges "under color of official right" or, in other words, as public employees. Shortly thereafter Kirk pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and community service.

Lang held out for nearly another year, although it isn't clear exactly when he began to cooperate with prosecutors. He was first represented by A C Wharton, who was then a private attorney and Shelby County public defender and is now Shelby County mayor. Lang dropped Wharton, or vice versa, three weeks after the indictment was returned. Wharton hasn't commented on the case, but it seems likely that Lang lied to him.

On November 7, 2002, Lang appeared in court to plead guilty to racketeering and pledge his cooperation with the government. Curiously, he was represented by a public defender. The coach, who had allegedly received $150,000 in cash in 24 installments from Logan Young two years earlier, was now officially indigent.

"Tennstud" and "Bama Booster"

Roy Adams is an Internet rarity -- a message poster who makes no secret of his real identity and whose alias, "Tennstud," no longer has a shred of anonymity to it.

A graduate of Central High School and an admirer of Estes Kefaufer, the Tennessee senator and presidential aspirant of the 1950s, Adams attended UT on and off from 1956 to 1963 and boasts an impressive arsenal of knowledge of UT football and state politics.

Before the Internet, he was a talk-radio caller, a regular at fan forums, owner of a popular Memphis eatery called the Adams Family Restaurant, and a booster that UT had to keep an eye on.

He says he chose the handle "Tennstud" in homage to the old Doc Watson song, "The Tennessee Stud," after trying several others and finding they were already in use.

"I hate that damn name more than anyone knows," he told the Flyer a year ago. "I am short, fat, ugly, old, and balding and anything but a Tennessee stud."

He still uses the name. He is actually more blogger than typical message-board poster. His comments are usually carefully crafted, correctly spelled and punctuated, civil, and devoid of the moronic invective that is commonplace on some fan sites. His favorite topic is Alabama and Logan Young, although he insists he only repeats what Young told him back in the day and is "careful not to open myself to any libel or defamation suits."

Young threatened to sue Adams for libel three years ago but never did.

Young is from Osceola, Arkansas, and attended Vanderbilt, but his football loyalties are to Alabama's Crimson Tide. His father started a successful food company, but Logan Young's passion is football, not business. He was the original owner of the old Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League in 1983-84. Other than that, his moments in the public eye have been unflattering, including an affair with another man's wife and last year's $4 million investment loss.

There were suspicions about Young's ties to Alabama for years but no public accusations of cheating until the Means story broke. Even after that there was some delicacy about identifying him. The indictment of Kirk and Lang, returned eight months after the story broke, doesn't mention Young by name as one of the co-conspirators or "fans known as boosters." On the Internet (he does not post himself) he was often referred to only as "LY" or "Bama Booster" before he was indicted.

Young has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Ernsberger found him "suspicious of me when I first walked in, but a tiny bit flattered that I would be talking to him in the first place." The author's handling of the cheating question is one of the few unattributed parts of Bragging Rights. An anonymous source quoted in the book tells Ernsberger, "Yeah, he'd do it," when asked if Young would cheat. Ernsberger said he didn't ask Young that question until their second interview.

"He was adamant that he didn't pay any money to Lynn Lang," he said. "He seemed angry as much as anything when you question his integrity."

Two years ago, Young was asked repeatedly by the Flyer if he gave money to Lang or a middleman.

"I didn't give him any money, and I didn't give anybody any money," he said. "I just don't believe that it happened. Coach Kirk said once in the paper that it was four or five Alabama boosters, now he says it was me and that he didn't see the money but that he knows Lynn got it. I would be curious to know how he knows Lynn got it."

Young volunteered the name of the rumored middleman, a former Hamilton High School football coach nicknamed "Botto," and said he had known him 20 years but didn't pay him either.

The Alabama Counteroffensive

Diehard Alabama fans have been stewing as their team endures a bowl-ban, public humiliation, fired head coaches, and an alarming number of losses for a school accustomed to competing for the national championship. Attorneys Tommy Gallion of Montgomery, Alabama, and Philip Shanks of Memphis decided to do something about it.

They represent former Alabama coaches Ivy Williams and Ronnie Cottrell in a civil lawsuit against the NCAA and University of Alabama officials. The objects of their ire include an NCAA investigator, the head of the university's committee on infractions, the university's compliance officer, and a trio of Memphians they believe conspired to bring down Alabama -- Schledwitz, Adams, and Kahn, owner of Arthur's Wine and Liquor and married to Young's former girlfriend Lisa Mallory, who once rented space above the liquor store.

All three gave depositions this year in Shanks' office, which is stuffed to the ceiling with Alabama football memorabilia. The general thrust of the questioning was the relationship of each of them to Young, Lang, Kirk, and UT Coach Fulmer. A sample from Gallion's formal complaint sets the tone: "Thus began the most unbelievable and unconstitutional persecution by the NCAA in the history of collegiate football."

The depositions could potentially be used in the criminal trial of Logan Young.

"It's not revenge against Tennessee," insists Gallion, whose father was Alabama's attorney general for two terms. "I could care less about Tennessee. What it has to do with is the danger of one college being singled out and nailed while another college gets away with it. It's not fair for the NCAA to have a pet."

He said he and Shanks took the case, which seeks $60 million and will be tried in Tuscaloosa if it gets to trial, on a contingency fee and that Young is not paying "one red penny."

Kahn calls it "the most bogus lawsuit I have ever seen" and "an abuse of process."

A University of Virginia graduate with a master's degree in English and no connection to UT, he left the prosecutor's office in 1983 to run his business. He plans to begin a third career as a high school English teacher next year.

In his deposition, Kahn acknowledged a casual owner-customer friendship with the lead prosecutor in the Lang case, Fred Godwin. He refused to say if he or his wife had talked to the grand jury or whether she had ever tried to record Young, citing "the marital privilege." He said that after the story broke Young left phone messages calling him "a dirty Jew" and "that fucking Hebe."

Kahn injected himself in the case when he started a "recovery fund" for Albert Means' mother and donated $1,000 to it after it was reported that she was nearly destitute while Lang was allegedly rolling in dough.

"It just seemed challenging and fun to do and it appealed to my old lawyer instincts," he said in his deposition.

Last to be deposed was Roy Adams. Not to be outdone by Shanks' floor-to-ceiling devotion to Alabama, Adams arrived wearing a bright orange blazer and a coonskin cap. Not including a break for lunch, the deposition took four hours. According to both sides, it was a day they will not soon forget.

E-mail: branston@MemphisFlyer.com

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