University of Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson told police investigators in April that he had “fully taken care of” his team’s drug problem and refused to turn over the names of student-athletes involved and documents in his possession, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained Tuesday by the Star Tribune.
Robinson was placed on paid administrative leave June 1, under investigation by both school administration and university police for his alleged knowledge and self-policing of several wrestlers’ use and sale of the prescription sedative Xanax this past winter.
Robinson’s attorney, Ryan Kaess, said Tuesday the coach was trying to help his team members when he rebuked police requests. Kaess also downplayed the dealing of Xanax, calling those sales “ticky-tack violations.”
“He said [to police], ‘Listen, I’m not going to work with you,’ ” Kaess said. “ ‘Why are you ostensibly coming after these kids? We need to help them — not hang a felony around their necks.’ ”
An anonymous informant told university police April 8 that Robinson tried to take matters into his own hands after discovering four wrestlers had sold the drug and 10 others had used it, according to the affidavit. The affidavit, dated April 21, mirrored many of the allegations against Robinson made by a Gophers wrestler that were reported by the Star Tribune in late May.
According to the affidavit, Robinson met with officers April 12 but refused to provide them with wrestlers’ names, documents in his possession and other information pertinent to the investigation. Robinson then said he would provide extensive information to police in exchange for “immunity” for his athletes.
“Robinson said that he would provide more detailed information beyond possession and use by his players if we could grant his players immunity,” university investigator Aaron Churness wrote in the report.
Two days later, police tried to interview wrestlers. When officers arrived at the students’ classes, they were not present. When contacted again, the informant told police that Robinson had alerted some wrestlers that they were being investigated and informed them to seek legal counsel.
The coach’s behavior ultimately led to a search warrant directed at both Robinson and the 14 wrestlers alleged to be involved, which was served April 15. Investigators seized three computers, a DVD drive, 15 storage drives and an iPhone from Robinson’s office at the Bierman Athletic Building, according to the warrant.
The university launched its own internal investigation into the matter last month. University President Eric Kaler and other leaders have said they will not comment until the probe is completed. A university spokesman said Tuesday there has been no change in Robinson’s status and the university’s stance.
The affidavit lays out a more elaborate timeline of the events.
According to the police informant and as previously reported, Robinson ordered an unannounced drug test March 21 — two days after the wrestling season ended — and met with the team two days later, before the results were in. At that time, according to the police informant, Robinson told the team that he knew about the drug activity, learning from an anonymous source “one [or] one-and-a-half months” prior.
Kaess confirmed the timing but said his client was “bluffing” about how much he knew in order to coerce confessions. Kaess said Robinson initially had only suspicions of drug use because of “rumors” among wrestlers and wrestlers’ parents. Some wrestlers were concerned that a member of the team was high at one tournament this year, Kaess said.
Robinson told officers he instructed his players to admit their guilt and bring the drugs to him but would not elaborate, according to the affidavit.
A Gophers wrestler, who spoke to the Star Tribune on the condition of anonymity, said Robinson offered to give his athletes amnesty if they wrote one-page confession letters. The source said the wrestlers had acquired 2,500 Xanax pills and turned over 1,400 of them to Robinson.
Kaess said when the wrestlers came to confess over the weekend of March 25-27, Robinson gave them a form he had created with check boxes indicating whether they had bought, used or sold the drug. When he received the forms, he discussed them with the athletes and then threw them away, Kaess said. He told the athletes to report to the athletic trainer to begin the school’s “Safe Harbor” program, which protects athletes from drug test-related punishments if they self-report. Student-athletes in the program are temporarily ineligible to participate in university sports.
Shortly after those meetings, Robinson left for a scheduled vacation and did not discuss the confessions with his superior, senior associate athletic director Marc Ryan, until he returned to campus April 11, one day before the police investigation began, Kaess said. The St. Paul-based lawyer said the coach did nothing wrong in waiting two weeks to tell Ryan.
“I don’t believe these kids were drug dealers in the true sense of the word,” Kaess said. “They were passing them around at parties and sharing in the cost of the drugs.”
Both investigations remain ongoing, but Christopher W. Madel and William J. Mauzy, the attorneys for two of the wrestlers being investigated, filed a motion Monday to pause the university’s internal investigation because of its potential to “interfere with or taint the criminal investigation,” according to district court documents.
On June 1, Mark Coyle, on his first day as Minnesota’s athletic director, spoke to Robinson in person and wrote him a letter that said, in part, “While on administrative leave, you are relieved of your regular University duties. … You are not to be on campus.”
Robinson, 69, has not responded to Star Tribune phone and text messages since the allegations surfaced in May. The coach has led the Gophers to three national championships in 30 years. He is under contract through 2020, at $146,000 per year.