Nearly seven years have passed since a UNC football player’s tweet sparked investigations into improper benefits from sports agents and a scandal that continues to dog the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
On Monday, in a courtroom in the seat of the county that houses UNC, Georgia sports agent Terry Watson pleaded guilty to violating state law as part of a plea arrangement with prosecutors. Watson was sentenced to 30 months probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. During his probation, he is barred from working for a sports agency.
The plea by Watson came after a day of meetings with four people accused in criminal cases resulting from one of the probes.
Defense attorneys spent much time with Jeff Nieman, an assistant Orange County district attorney, and investigators outside the courtroom throughout a day that brought the unexpected plea from Watson.
Russell Babb, the Raleigh attorney representing Watson, said his client wanted closure in a case that has destroyed his business and cost him his NFL Players Association license. He recently lost his marriage, too, Babb said.
“He has really paid a heavy price for his decisions,” Babb said.
Babb told Judge A. Graham Shirley II that he had not expected to be standing before him on Monday resolving the criminal charges against Watson with a plea.
“But Terry Watson very much sort of drove that,” Babb said. “Terry Watson was the one who wanted to accept responsibility and achieve some closure today.”
Since the collapse of his business, a Georgia-based sports agency he formed after finishing law school at Samford University in Alabama, Watson has worked in chemical sales in the Marietta, Ga., area and as a waiter at night.
Watson’s plea resolved one of the five criminal cases that resulted from the probe into the tweet sent out in 2010 by former UNC player Marvin Austin. It came after Patrick Jones, a Georgia real estate agent and longtime associate, agreed to testify against him as part of an arrangement he brokered with Orange County prosecutors.