Netflix’s Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul revisits the bombshell case of NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was at the center of a now-15-year-old gambling scandal. News broke in the summer of 2007 that Donaghy was under investigation for fixing games, “igniting a media storm and sending the NBA, FBI and sports fans into crisis,” per the streaming service’s official synopsis. Involving everyone from small town bookies in the Philadelphia suburbs to notorious New York crime families, the scheme centered on three co-conspirators — Donaghy and his former high school classmates Tommy Martino and Jimmy “The Sheep” Battista — who, for the first time, all discuss their involvement in the Netflix docuseries.
“I love the game of basketball. Growing up, it's all I did, all I dreamt of, and all I wanted to be a part of,” Donaghy says in the Operation Flagrant Foul trailer. “Man did I f*ck my life up.”
He began working for the NBA in 1994 before ultimately resigning in July 2007 when news broke of the FBI investigation. As he explained in the Netflix doc, referees were contractually barred from placing bets of any kind. “But I had insider information, and that’s all I needed to make these picks correct,” he said. So instead of placing the bets himself, he accepted money from professional gamblers in exchange for tips on injuries and games, according to Sports Illustrated.
In his 2009 book, Personal Foul, the father of four wrote that he started earning so much cash that he didn’t know where to stash it all so that his then-wife, Kim Donaghy, wouldn’t find it in their Sarasota, Florida home. A few months after the scandal became public, Kim — who also tells her side of the story in Operation Flagrant Foul — filed for divorce in 2007.
The following year, a jury found Donaghy guilty of wire fraud and illegal gambling, after prosecutors accused him of receiving up to $5,000 for each prediction that turned out to be correct. He was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. During his trial, Donaghy admitted to having a gambling addiction and also alleged that the NBA encouraged referees to call fouls to manipulate game results. With its credibility in question, the league also conducted an internal investigation, which ultimately found that Donaghy did not fix any games.
“I’m very sorry. ... I brought shame on myself, my family, and to the profession that I love,” Donaghy told U.S. District Judge Carol Amon at Brooklyn Federal Court during his sentencing, per ABC News.
While he was in prison in November 2008, a fellow inmate with reported mob ties beat Donaghy so badly that he required surgery, according to Bleacher Report. By the following June, a press release went out that he was being released from prison to complete the remainder of his sentence in a halfway house. Continuing to live in Florida after his release, Donaghy found himself in legal trouble once again in 2017 when he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for allegedly threatening a man with a hammer. However, the case was later dropped.
In January 2021, Donaghy returned to officiating for Major League Wrestling, playing the role of a crooked referee. “Pro wrestling is entertainment, and I always joked the NBA was a form of entertainment and I compared it a little bit to pro wrestling behind the scenes,” he previously told Sports Illustrated in October 2020. “When I was growing up, I always enjoyed pro wrestling, guys like Hulk Hogan and Ivan Putski. I thought it would be fun to get involved and see where it goes.”