MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former Auburn basketball player Varez Ward pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he conspired to fix a 2012 game that his team lost to Arkansas.
During a brief arraignment hearing in federal court, Ward stood quietly as his attorney announced the plea. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel Jr. set a July 22 trial date for Ward.
An FBI investigation resulted in a grand jury indicting Ward. He was arrested Monday on charges of bribery related to a sports contest and conspiracy counts that accuse him of trying to fix the point spread in Auburn’s Southeastern Conference game against Arkansas on Jan. 25, 2012. Ward came off the bench in that game but crumpled to the floor after playing only 19 seconds with an apparent leg injury. Arkansas won 56-53.
Ward was suspended before a Feb. 25, 2012, game, also against Arkansas, and didn’t play for the Tigers again.
Ward, a 6’2″ guard, averaged nine points per and started 17 games in his only season at Auburn. He’d played two seasons for Texas before transferring to Auburn.
Federal prosecutors are accusing Ward of attempting to recruit other Auburn players to help fix the game and offering to pay other players for their help.
One of Ward’s attorneys, Everett Wess of Birmingham, said the indictment is unusual because a conspiracy involves two or more people, but the indictment names no one else. Wess said he has not yet seen the prosecution’s evidence and doesn’t know if there is a cooperating witness.
“We plan to talk to coaches, teammates and friends and learn as much as we can about this case,” he said.
Ward, who is free on bond, made no statements in court or to the news media as he left the courthouse. He wore a dark blue shirt and blue striped tie to the hearing, but neither was the shade of Auburn blue.
Ward is no longer attending Auburn. He is living in his hometown of Montgomery and looking at other schools, with the hope of returning to basketball, but he is not working, defense attorney Reginald McDaniel said.
If convicted, Ward faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
U.S. Attorney George Beck said Tuesday that Auburn University officials cooperated fully with the investigation, and Auburn issued a statement saying it notified the FBI, NCAA, and SEC immediately after learning of the matter last year.
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