The seemingly dormant investigation by the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office into improper agent activity surrounding the UNC football program roared back to life this week as a search warrant was executed for financial records at Bank of America belonging to agent Gary Wichard and his company, Pro Tect Management. The warrant was issued Tuesday and television station WTVD, which obtained a copy of the warrant, released it Wednesday.
The warrant states that Marvin Austin admitted to investigators that he took trips to California in March and July of 2009 and that his high school assistant coach, Todd Amis, paid for the flights through a travel agency. The warrant alleges that Pro Tect Management reimbursed Amis for the cost of the March flight with a company check signed by Wichard. It also states that Pro Tect Management directly paid the travel agency for changes to Austin's flight in that trip. The warrant also notes that Wichard has not been registered as an agent in North Carolina for over 12 years.
In other words, Wichard has potentially committed a number of violations under the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agent Act, which is the legislation that governs agent activity in the state. Specifically the UAAA prohibits providing anything of value either to the student-athlete prior to signing with an agent or providing anything of value to an individual other than the student-athlete. It also prohibits operating as an agent without registering with the state. The warrant alleges that by paying for Austin's flight changes, Wichard has provided a benefit to a student-athlete; by reimbursing Amis for the flight, Wichard has provided a benefit to someone other than the student-athlete; and that by having contact with Austin he has operated as an agent despite not being registered in North Carolina since 1998. If actually charged with these violations, Wichard could be facing felony convictions and could also be sued for damages by UNC.
This action by Marshall's office is significant because when the news of potential improper agent behavior broke last summer, the NCAA and certain coaches who now have statues of themselves went railing against the evils of agents in college football, and Marshall, who was embroiled in a high-profile U.S.Senate race, jumped on the anti-agent bandwagon. But as the season progressed, the vigor with which the NCAA was interested in pursuing agents seemed to wane, and Marshall's investigation seemed stuck in neutral, particularly in light of the fact that Wichard's certification was suspended for nine months by the NFL Players Association in December for his contact with Austin while the NCAA and Marshall said and did nothing publicly. If Marshall actually brings charges against Wichard, North Carolina will be the first state to do so in this new wave of holding agents accountable for their misdeeds.
As for what this means for UNC football and the ongoing unpleasantness, the answer is probably not much, at least not right now. Austin's trips to California and contact with Wichard had already been revealed, so this new information only serves to complete the dots on the money trail, since it was pretty much assumed that Wichard paid for the trips, either through Balmer or another source. The Marshall investigation is limited to whether or not crimes were committed under the UAAA, not under NCAA guidelines.
Of course the next logical step, and the one that has ABCers slobbering over themselves, is what this information might lead us to believe about Wichard's relationship with former UNC assistant coach John Blake. Again, it is premature to even venture a guess. What can be determined based on what we have seen so far is that Wichard is a lying weasel and he either thinks he is bulletproof or he is galactically stupid since he left a glaring paper trail when he wrote company checks to commit these violations regarding Marvin Austin.
Meanwhile, kudos to Elaine Marshall's office for having the stones to move forward and keep chipping away at this. Regardless of the outcome for the Carolina football program, the only way to alleviate the agent dilemma is for agents to know they can and will be punished if they behave unethically with student-athletes.