Originally created 04/23/04

Tennessee close to ending probe into allegations



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee officials are close to finishing an investigation into allegations made by an Alabama attorney that coach Phillip Fulmer and an agent were involved in paying football players.

The university's general counsel office, NCAA compliance officer and NCAA faculty representative have been working on the case since October and hope to send a report of their findings to the NCAA and Southeastern Conference soon.

"I can't tell you if that's tomorrow or five weeks from now because what happens is they may do an interview and from that interview they say, 'Well, we need to talk to this person,"' athletic director Mike Hamilton said Thursday. "Basically they feel like they're in the final stages of wrapping it up."

Hamilton said he couldn't comment on whether they have found any violations.

Attorney Tommy Gallion, who is representing former Alabama assistant coaches Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams in their lawsuit against the NCAA and some Alabama officials, has alleged Fulmer was involved in a conspiracy with the NCAA to bring down the Alabama football program.

Cottrell and Williams were fired with head coach Mike Dubose in 2000, a little over a year before the NCAA placed Alabama on probation for recruiting violations.

Gallion first made public the payment allegations in an appearance on the Paul Finebaum radio talk show Oct. 16.

Gallion referred to a sworn affidavit from an unnamed former UT football player who met with Gallion's co-counsel in Memphis on Oct. 7.

The player, later identified as Rommie Hawkins, said Fulmer helped John Henderson, who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, set up a line of credit for $50,000 while he was still at UT, according to Gallion.

Gallion also claims former Vols Travis Henry and Fred Weary received thousands of dollars in wire transfers sent by agent Tim McGee.

Gallion read off some wire transfer numbers on the show.

Fulmer and McGee denied the charges, and Hawkins said his words were misconstrued and that he believed the meeting was called to discuss a book he was writing.

McGee said he went with Henderson to get the line of credit a day after the 2002 Citrus Bowl, Henderson's last game as a Tennessee player.

Gallion sent a letter to Hamilton dated Oct. 22 asking Tennessee to investigate his claims and requesting Fulmer provide sworn testimony, which has been denied.

In his letter, Gallion also said Tennessee should take another look into alleged payments made to former quarterback Tee Martin in 1999. The NCAA said it turned up no violations in its investigation.

That case would not be reopened unless something new was found, Hamilton said.

Gallion also passed on information to Tennessee that he received from the father of one-time Alabama recruit Kenny Smith Jr.

One of the violations the NCAA found against Alabama was that Smith received money from a booster. Smith later enrolled at Tennessee, where his father said "Kenny was advised he didn't have to attend class" and "a tutor did all of his class work," Gallion wrote.

"I would have to assume that you will report all of this to the NCAA as required, and I am sure that they will do nothing about it," Gallion wrote to Hamilton.

The NCAA cleared Tennessee in 2001 after an academic fraud investigation.

Smith and his family filed a defamation lawsuit in Alabama earlier this month against Fulmer based on statements the coach made to an NCAA investigator.

Summaries of Fulmer's conversations with the NCAA about Alabama, which were supposed to be confidential, were acquired through a pending case in Memphis and distributed to newspapers by Gallion in January.