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Life In Ohio, A Continuing Series

Given Jim Tressel's deepening problems with the NCAA, this bit buried deep within a generally laudatory account by the Columbus Monthly of his previous coaching stop seems relevant:

Mickey Monus was one of the first people Tressel met in Youngstown. The drugstore tycoon, a member of the YSU board of trustees, interviewed the coach in 1985 as a member of the panel’s sports committee. Monus, the founder of the Phar-Mor chain, was a big deal in Youngstown. His company was a rare economic bright spot after the collapse of the local steel industry, growing from one store in 1982 to 300 in 37 states a decade later.

Like a lot of people in Youngstown, Monus was crazy about sports. He brought a women’s professional golf tournament to the city and founded the World Basketball League, a professional association for players 6-foot-5 and under with teams in Youngstown and other smaller cities. An original general partner of the Colorado Rockies, he loved to hang around with jocks and often gave YSU players off-season jobs.

In the summer of 1988, Tressel called Monus and asked him to meet Isaac, then an incoming freshman quarterback. The coach hoped Monus could find work for Isaac down the road, according to court testimony. Immediately, the relationship between Monus and Isaac crossed ethical lines. At that first meeting, Monus gave Isaac $150 to attend a local fair, according to an NCAA infractions report. Money continued to exchange hands throughout Isaac’s YSU career; the NCAA later estimated the quarterback received at least $10,000 from Monus. The booster also arranged for Isaac to use two or three cars while at YSU.

No one might have found out about the dealings if Phar-Mor kept on ticking. It turned out the company was a giant lie. Monus had cooked the books, hiding massive losses, while attracting some $1.1 billion in investments. The saga turned into a huge legal drama, with Monus’s first fraud and embezzlement trial in 1994 ending in a hung jury. (Monus was convicted of 109 felony counts of fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement about a year later.)

Accusations floated that one of the jurors was bribed. Prosecutors accused Isaac, who remained close with Monus, of promising $50,000 to a juror, a friend of his then girlfriend, if she sided with Monus. Both Monus and Isaac were charged with jury tampering. When Monus went on trial in 1998, the full extent of his relationship with Isaac—including the YSU shenanigans—was revealed. “Mickey was a person who was gullible; he loved athletes and we did something wrong,” says Isaac, referring to the YSU payments. (Monus was acquitted, but Isaac, who cooperated with authorities and admitted to trying to sway the juror, was sentenced to three years probation for tampering.)