An Overland Park man recently charged in a large-scale marijuana distribution ring allegedly supplied a number of players on the 2010-11 University of Kansas basketball team, a federal prosecutor says.
An assistant U.S. attorney made that assertion during a June 18 hearing to determine if Samuel Villeareal III should be detained pending trial.
Villeareal, 32, was one of 25 defendants charged June 11 in U.S. District Court with conspiring over a four-year period to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of “high-grade” marijuana in Johnson and Douglas counties.
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said he didn’t have knowledge of the case and would not comment. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self also declined to comment, saying it was the first he had heard of Villeareal or the case.
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In outlining Villeareal’s alleged role in the drug conspiracy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Terra Morehead told a federal magistrate that authorities seized $11,000 and an iPhone when they searched Villeareal’s house in May 2011.
She 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.”
“We know that because of the text messages we obtained from the iPhone and also from surveillance that was done throughout this investigation of Mr. Villeareal,” she said.
Morehead said the phone “became kind of a key component to this entire investigation.”
Morehead also described what agents watching Villeareal observed.
“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 the players,” she said. “So we know that he had probably not only a personal relationship with them but a professional relationship as well.”
Four of the 16 members of the 2010-11 team were reached by phone Friday. Two, Jeff Withey and Royce Woolridge, said they didn’t know Villeareal.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know who that is. I haven’t heard of him,” said Woolridge, who transferred from KU and now plays for Washington State.
“I’ve never heard that name in my life,” Withey said. When asked if Villeareal was friends with others on the team, he said, “I have no idea,” then directed further questions to KU’s sports information director.
The third player, Elijah Johnson, did not comment when asked if he knew Villeareal and said interviews must go through KU’s sports information director. A fourth, Jordan Juenemann, declined to comment.
Jonathan Bortnick, Villeareal’s attorney, declined to comment on the case or the allegations about the players.
“I understand that’s what the U.S. attorney is alleging,” he said.
Barry Grissom, the U.S. attorney for Kansas, also declined to comment on the investigation or charges. In announcing the charges June 13, Grissom said he expected to be able to release more investigation details “within a month.”
Information about Villeareal’s alleged connection to basketball players is not contained in the 44-page complaint and supporting affidavit filed in court that outlines the extensive investigation that began in 2008 and included the use of court-approved interceptions of cell phone conversations between the alleged conspirators.
At the June 18 hearing, after Morehead asked that Villeareal be detained pending trial, his attorney, Bortnick, pointed out that Villeareal had no criminal record beyond traffic matters and that he had strong family connections to the area.
Judge James O’Hara ruled that Villeareal could be released on bond but would have to reside at a halfway house until trial.
He ordered Villeareal to have no contact with any witnesses or co-defendants, including any of his alleged marijuana customers.
Morehead said: “He obviously knows who those are, and so do we because we have a cell phone and have all of that documentation. And again, we will be monitoring that.”
The National Center for Drug Free Sport, based in Kansas City, Mo., manages the NCAA’s drug-testing program as well as testing for more than 200 universities and colleges.
“We’re seeing an increase for reported use of marijuana,” said the center’s president, Frank Uryasz.
That increase among student athletes mirrors the national trend of increased marijuana usage among college-aged people in general, he said.
The NCAA conducts anonymous surveys of student-athletes every five years. The most recent data from 2009 showed that 22.6 percent of more than 20,000 athletes who completed the surveys admitted to using marijuana in the previous year. It was 21.2 percent in the 2005 survey.
For men’s basketball players, 22 percent admitted to marijuana use in the 2009 survey compared to 18.6 percent in the 2005 survey.
Though the NCAA conducts drug testing on student athletes year-round, it only screens for marijuana usage for events like the postseason basketball tournament or college bowl games, according to Uryasz.
Under KU’s internal drug-testing policy, all freshman or new transfer student athletes are required to take a drug test “within a reasonable amount of time” after arriving on campus. And all teams that qualify for post-season play also may be subject to testing.
The university also conducts unannounced, random testing during the year, according to the policy. All athletes are tested at least twice during their tenure at the university.
Under the KU policy, an athlete who tests positive is required to undergo counseling and is subject to more frequent testing.
The policy does not call for suspension from game competition until after a third positive test.
Uryasz said there is a wide variation among schools on how they handle positive tests for marijuana.
Under KU’s policy, a positive test that shows a THC level below 15 nanograms per milliliter is not reported to the university.
Uryasz said that is a pretty standard cut-off level that was established to rule out those exposed to second-hand smoke, although he said his organization recommends a lower cut-off level for its clients.
“You would have to inhale an inordinate amount of marijuana (to exceed the 15 nanogam level),” he said.