ATHENS, Ga. Former N.C. State football standout and University of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan was acquitted Friday of a long list of charges related to an investment fraud scheme, looking relieved as he put his head in his hands and then hugged teary family members in the courtroom.
The 69-year-old former coach, who also had faced 41 counts charges including conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. His lawyers said he was duped and thought he was sharing a great investment opportunity with friends.
In an interview at his home after the verdict, Donnan said that even compared to the many high-pressure games he coached, “nothing even comes close to approximating that minute when the judge announced the verdict.”
“The apprehension and the anxiety was overwhelming,” he said.
One of the investors in Donnan’s venture N.C. State basketball coach Mark Gottfried testified that he lost more than $300,000 and that Donnan told him the investment carried “pretty much no risk.”
Donnan played quarterback for N.C. State and was the ACC player of the year in 1967. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Witnesses called by the prosecutors included business leaders, former football players and high-profile college coaches who invested. Among the witnesses Gottfried, Texas State football coach Dennis Franchione, Cincinnati football coach Tommy Tuberville and former Texas Tech men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
Defense attorney Ed Tolley said he was “very moved” that Donnan was found not guilty on all charges.
“I’m so grateful to the jury that they paid attention,” said Tolley, who’s been the coach’s friend for more than 20 years.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, whose office prosecuted the case, said he respected the jury’s decision.
“Once we have put forward our case, our job is not to question the jury’s verdict, but to respect it,” he said.
Prosecutors had said Donnan and Gregory Crabtree of Proctorville, Ohio, ran a fraudulent investment scheme from September 2007 to December 2010 through GLC Limited, a West Virginia-based company dealing in wholesale and closeout merchandise.
Crabtree pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge last month and faces up to five years in prison.
Crabtree and Donnan promised high rates of return. But when the company failed to turn adequate profits to make those payouts, investors were paid with money from other investors, prosecutors said.
Donnan’s attorneys maintained that he was also a victim in Crabtree’s scheme and that he thought he’d found a great investment.
The jury foreman, Artis Ricks, said he believed Donnan was as much a victim as other investors.
“I just kept thinking day after day the government was going to pull out a smoking gun, and I just didn’t see one,” Ricks said Friday after the trial.
Donnan was head coach at Marshall University from 1990 to 1995 and at Georgia from 1996 to 2000. He later became an ESPN analyst. Prosecutors argued that Crabtree ran day-to-day operations while Donnan lured investors from his extensive network of personal and professional contacts.
The defense called only a handful of witnesses, but thoroughly questioned many of the prosecution’s witnesses.
Most investors testified that they were heavily influenced by their trust in Donnan, who assured that they wouldn’t lose their initial investment money. Many received high payouts initially, prompting them to invest more. Almost all eventually lost money.
Donnan’s attorneys argued that as soon as he realized something was wrong with the business, he hired people to try to sort out its finances and salvage it. Many investors knew that, and that’s one reason many of them testified that they are still close friends with him, Donnan said.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less