Originally created 05/08/02

SEC investigates payments to former Tennessee QB



MOBILE, Ala. -- The Southeastern Conference is investigating two alleged payments in 1999 to Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin by a Mobile businesswoman through a sportswriter who knew Martin.

Mobile Register reporter Wayne Rowe said he cashed two checks totaling $4,500 in February 1999 made out to him by Diane D. Sanford, then an executive with Aarco Insurance in Mobile. Rowe, who was interviewed by an SEC investigator Wednesday, said he then forwarded the money to Martin, a Mobile native.

"If hindsight was 20/20, I'd have never done this. I was not thinking. I had nothing to gain," Rowe said in a Register story Tuesday.

"Tee knew my kids. He'd come over and play video games and mess around. It was never a thing where I was trying to profit from him," Rowe said.

The payments were allegedly made just over a month after Martin, a former Williamson High School star, led the Volunteers to a national title and while he was still eligible at Tennessee, where he played in the fall of 1999.

Sanford, who now works for Sunbelt Finance and Insurance in Mobile, did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press Tuesday.

Aarco owner William Tucker said a lawsuit had been filed against Diane and Paul Sanford concerning finances at his company and that Diane Sanford was fired from Aarco in September 1999.

Paul Sanford died Monday at the University of South Alabama Medical Center after being admitted last Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said. According to a police report, officers responded to a suicide attempt involving Sanford that day.

SEC investigator Bill Sievers, who interviewed Rowe on Wednesday in Mobile, declined comment on the investigation. League commissioner Roy Kramer and Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey also said they could not discuss an ongoing investigation.

Martin, a Pittsburgh Steelers backup, is playing for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe and could not be reached for comment.

The Register said former colleagues described Diane and Paul Sanford as avid Tennessee fans. Diane Sanford's first husband and their son both earned degrees from the school.

Rowe said he didn't know Diane Sanford, and had no reason to believe she was a Tennessee booster, when she called him early in 1999 and told him that Martin needed help getting his car fixed.

Several days later, she called him again.

"She said, 'Wayne, I talked to Tee. His engine blew up. Is it possible I could get you to send him something?"' Rowe said. "I said, 'Sure."'

According to Rowe, Sanford said Martin had indicated Rowe was someone in Mobile he trusted.

Rowe said he picked up a $2,000 check from the Aarco offices on Feb. 5, 1999, cashed it and wired the money to Martin in Knoxville. Three weeks later, on Feb. 26, he did the same with a $2,500 check from Sanford on the same account.

"That was the extent of my involvement," Rowe said.

Asked about Rowe's status at the newspaper, Register Editor Mike Marshall said, "We're still looking into the matter."

Dickey said Tennessee officials won't take any independent action before the SEC completes its investigation. The league will turn over its findings to the NCAA.

In April, Tennessee forfeited two scholarships and prohibited head coach Phil Fulmer from recruiting trips in May for an improper meeting with former Alabama wide receiver Eric Locke.