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Rick Downs never played basketball at the University of Kentucky, but a former Wildcat basketball star is being accused of making a steal, and then a fast break with his money.
Derrick Miller, 42, a former University of Kentucky basketball player from 1986 through 1990, has been charged with four counts of theft by deception, each a Class D felony. Miller allegedly took four checks from Downs, and then cashed them without delivering a pair of lower-arena season tickets for the upcoming UK basketball season, as well as for allegedly failing to deliver on deals made for advertising in a Kentucky sports publication.
Downs, a local certified public accountant, lives in Marion County. Downs has had season tickets to the University of Kentucky's football games, and he decided to try to pick up some tickets to the men's basketball program at Kentucky, too, and he turned to Miller, who told Downs he could get him the tickets he wanted. Allen Lanham, a Marion County farmer, is a friend of Downs who was also purchasing tickets with Downs in the transaction gone wrong, as well as a third person who is not named in the court documents.
"Three of us bought the tickets together," Downs said. "I knew there was no way I would go to all of them, and I just wanted to see some games. Over the last couple of years, he (Miller) had told me if I ever needed tickets to individual games he could get them, but I never took him up on it."
Downs had known Miller for three years since the former basketball star had been visiting his Springfield office to sell advertising in a book called "Kentucky Sports History," which employed Miller as a salesman. Downs said the book features statistics and other information about University of Kentucky Basketball. Downs was told the book would be printed and then distributed, with free copies being passed along to local school libraries.
Downs wrote a personal check for $1,200 to Miller on April 25 of this year to pay for the tickets. The day before, he also wrote a check from his business for $400 to Miller to pay for his advertisement in the book. According to a report by Springfield Police Officer Charlie Osbourn, Miller took the checks and cashed them both at Springfield State Bank, but never delivered tickets or advertising to Downs. Two other checks were also written to Miller from Downs for advertising in previous years, and the total amount allegedly taken was $3,600, according to the police report.
Downs said he became suspicious a while back when other cases against Miller and another former UK player, Ed Davender, appeared on television and in regional newspapers.
"I saw that, and I called the (Washington County) high school and talked to Lisa Burkhead, the school's librarian," Downs said. "She said they hadn't gotten a book in the six years she had been there."
Burkhead said in a telephone interview that neither her school nor the local elementary school had any knowledge of the books being sent to their libraries.
Since Downs was already aware of the ticket scam in other counties, and the new information that the book in which he was advertising was not being delivered to local schools, he became even more suspicious.
"On one hand, I guess I was a little bit suspicious when it happened, but at the same time, it seemed legit to me. It was worth the risk in my mind," Downs said. "Actually, the year he started with the book, he brought me a copy that was supposedly signed by Tubby (former UK coach Tubby Smith) and Billy G. (former UK coach Billy Gillispie), which may be fakes, too, I don't know."
Downs contacted the Springfield Police Department and filed a report, and a warrant was being issued for Miller in Fayette County. Washington County Attorney Hamilton Simms said he was preparing the complaint, but was awaiting further information from Osbourn.
Downs said he has since learned that Miller was supposedly not employed by the book publisher when he collected the most recent checks, which he said is even more disappointing to him.
"It's really disappointing because you never want to see people in the public eye doing stuff like this," Downs said. "A lot of kids and other people look up to these basketball players, and you just like them to be honest people."
Another disappointed customer of Miller's was Glenn Leake, owner of Lebanon Jewelry. Leake said he gave Miller checks to pay for tickets, as well as advertising, and had also seen no results. Leake said he filed a complaint with Marion County Attorney Joseph H. Mattingly III.
"There have been no charges issued on those, and it's typically our policy to not comment, but I can confirm that we have received complaints concerning that circumstance," Mattingly said. "I think it's widely known that folks in Lexington and some other places are investigating that, and I suspect the ones filed in Washington County were filed way ahead of ours. Our complaints have just been in the last few days. I'm not exactly sure yet how many there may be."
Mattingly added that he is still getting information about other possible victims in Marion County.
Bryan Ward, a Springfield insurance agent who also lives in Marion County, said he was a victim of Miller's advertising scam, but never purchased tickets from the former player.
"Derrick Miller is the one I spoke with. He comes in every year, and he has for three or four years," Ward said. "I'm 99 percent sure that Ed Davender is his so-called business partner. Derrick came in and said I'm selling ads for the book again, and I said put me down."
Ward had been saying put me down, but he finally changed his tune when Miller started to fall short on promises to deliver copies of the book signed by UK coaches and the entire team. Ward said he became concerned after not receiving his promised copies of the books, especially after former UK coach Tubby Smith had left the program.
"I asked him how he was going to get me that one since Tubby was gone, and he said that might be a problem," Ward recalled. "He came back in about a year ago and said are you ready to do this again, and I told him I had never gotten my books. I told him I was done advertising with him. I told him if I got my books and he did what he said he would do, he could come back, and I'd take another ad with him. He never showed up again, and that was the last time I heard from him."
Ward has a cell phone number for Miller, which is disconnected according to a message received when dialing the number.
Ward said Miller also told him that he could get tickets for Ward to Kentucky basketball games, and that he could even get him and a friend into UK practices. Miller continued to talk about getting tickets, but Ward said he never tried to buy tickets from Miller, and the only money he lost was what was spent for advertising in the "Kentucky Sports History" book.
When Ward learned of Miller's arrest recently on charges in other Kentucky counties, he was not surprised.
"The first thing I thought was, 'I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.' Then I was a little embarrassed, too," Ward said. "But he had come into my office and had presented himself well, and was throwing names around. He was a former UK player, and I believed him."
Ward said he has not filed charges, but does plan to speak to the Washington County attorney and file a complaint against Miller.
According to a receipt given to Downs by Miller, "Kentucky Sports History" has a Georgetown, Ky., post office box and telephone number. A spokesperson at the Georgetown post office confirmed that the box was rented to the company, but calls to the telephone number were taken by an answering machine, and no messages were answered as of press time.
Records in the office of Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson show that "Kentucky Sports History" has an inactive business status, and it has been inactive since Nov. 2, 2006. "Kentucky Sports History" has an assumed name of Sports Highlights Inc., according to records, and that listing also has several assumed names, all of which have inactive status.
In addition to the charges in Washington and Marion counties, Miller has been charged in similar cases in Fayette, Clark, and Bell counties in recent weeks. Steve Wides, Miller's Lexington-based attorney, said he was not aware of charges against his client in Washington County, but added that he was aware of the potential of other charges. When asked whether he was aware of the charges against Miller in Springfield, Wides replied, "I am now. I haven't seen the paperwork in terms of these charges."
Although he couldn't give details due to attorney-client privilege, Wides said he is concerned about Miller.
"I'm concerned about minimizing the damage with Derrick. He's got some issues to take care of and wants to square the record. Derrick is coming forward and trying to get everybody taken care of as far as who this involves," Wides said.
Wides said he was aware of the Kentucky Sports History publication, but added that he has no in-depth knowledge of the company.