A federal prosecutor said an Overland Park man implicated in a large-scale marijuana distribution ring supplied a number of University of Kansas basketball players with the drug.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom confirmed to KCTV5 Friday afternoon that an assistant prosecutor stated in a recent hearing that a defendant sold marijuana to members of the KU basketball team from the 2010-11 season. Grissom's spokesman declined to provide additional details.
The Kansas City Star, KCTV5's reporting partner, initially released the explosive allegation in an article published Friday afternoon.
The assistant U.S. attorney made the declaration during a June 18 hearing on whether Samuel Villeareal III should be detained pending trial. He was one of 25 people charged June 11 in U.S. District Court in connection with laundering money and moving high-grade marijuana. The suspects allegedly sought to profit by selling marijuana from California brought to the area via private vehicle.
Villeareal's attorney, Jonathan Bortnick, was out of the office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
KU officials declined comment when asked Friday by KCTV5 about the prosecutor's statement. Representatives for Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger and basketball coach Bill Self said the two would have no comment.
The newspaper attempted to reach the 16 players on that team. Jeff Withey and Royce Woolridge said they did not know Villeareal. Elijah Johnson and Jordan Juenemann declined comment.
KU police requires random testing of players and refers athletes that test positive to counseling. Suspension comes after a third positive. Click here to read the policy.
The NCAA tests for marijuana usage during the postseason.
Federal courts authorized wire tapes in the case. Cellphone conversations and text messages in addition to surveillance by undercover officers and hidden cameras were used to document the allegations, according to officials.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Terra Morehead told a federal magistrate during last week's hearing that authorities seized $11,000 and an iPhone when they searched Villeareal's home in May 2011. Morehead described him as a supplier of marijuana to a number of individuals, "including a number of Kansas University basketball players from the 2010-2011 season," according to a transcript obtained by the Star.
"We know that because of the text messages we obtained from the iPhone and also from surveillance that was done throughout this investigative of Mr. Villeareal," the Star quoted Morehead as saying.
The suspect's phone records became a key to the investigation. Agents monitored Villeareal's movements.
"At one occasion, law enforcement had Mr. Villeareal this basketball season at the Sprint Center sitting behind the KU basketball bench with a number of players," she said. "So we know that he had probably not only a personal relationship with them, but a professional relationship as well."
She described the case as "a giant spider web where everyone kind of merges and meets and separates and then comes back."
According to the transcript, Villeareal became a target of the investigation in 2008 because of drug investigators in Douglas County and Lawrence. Villeareal was ordered by the court to have no contact with witnesses, victims or co-defendants in the case.
"Specifically, I want to make sure Mr. Villeareal is clear that this includes the customers that he was selling marijuana to, and he obviously knows who those area, and so do we because we have a cellphone and have all of that documentation," Morehead said. "And again, we will be monitoring that."
Frank Uryasz, president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which is based in Kansas City, told KCTV5 that there has been a recent increase in marijuana use by college students. National surveys indicate about 20 percent of college athletes smoke pot. Slightly more than one in five men's basketball players admitted to marijuana use in a 2009 anonymous survey.
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