Former Georgia football coach Jim Donnan, center, waves to a passerby before speaking to reporters Friday in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo)
ATHENS, Ga. — Former 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 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.
Donnan said his family gave him inspiration to turn down a plea deal that prosecutors offered him, despite facing so many charges.
"There was no way I could look at my children or my grandchildren or my wife, knowing my innocence, and take something like that," he said, adding that his confidence was bolstered by previous victories in related civil cases.
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 coached 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.
Witnesses called by the prosecutors included business leaders, former football players and high-profile college coaches who invested. Among the witnesses were North Carolina State basketball coach Mark Gottfried, Texas State football coach Dennis Franchione, Cincinnati football coach Tommy Tuberville and former Texas Tech men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
The defense called only a handful of witnesses, but thoroughly questioned many of the prosecution 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.
Donnan's post-verdict plans include watching his grandchildren play sports and playing some golf and tennis himself. He'd also like to be a sports commentator again.
The former coach got choked up when he talked about one granddaughter's high school graduation in Oklahoma next week and a big family celebration he wasn't sure he could attend until the verdict was read.
"It's been a very tough process from day one," Donnan said.comments powered by Disqus