Tattoo-Gate: Decoding the Emails
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the story broke back in December that Terrelle Pryor and a number of his Ohio State teammates had violated NCAA rules by selling or trading their memorabilia to the owner of a local tattoo shop, fans quickly coined the nickname “Tattoo-Gate.”
At the time, it seemed a little over the top considering it was a play on “Watergate,” a 1970s political scandal that brought an end to the career of United States President Richard Nixon.
Three months later, however, it’s frightening how fitting the nickname has truly become for what is currently going on at Ohio State.
Head Coach Jim Tressel said everything short of “I am not a crook” on Tuesday after Yahoo! Sports revealed that Tressel faced possible NCAA sanctions himself for withholding information.
The Yahoo report quoted unnamed sources and OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith talked about leaks within the organization. Tressel even claimed he was keeping the confidentiality of a federal investigation.
This thing became a full-blown scandal over night, and the only thing missing from Tuesday’s press conference was the term “slush fund.”
It did have an e-mail exchange between Tressel and the “concerned party” who first contacted him with the information back in April of 2010, and even those had redacted portions that made them look like classified government documents. (View Emails)
The following is de-coding of those e-mails. They are reprinted exactly the way they appear on the handout we received from Ohio State, with a few of the inconsequential lines (such as “I know you are busy with Spring practice) left out to save space.
In bold, we have included our thoughts on what is being said in the e-mails, along with what is not being said.
Decoding the e-mails:
1st Email – Friday, April 02, 2010 2:32 PM
Dear Coach Tressell: (Notice Tressel is misspelled. This guy is a lawyer? We’ll give him a pass because he got it right in the email address).
* A lot of my friends are in law enforcement. The Federal Government raided the house of (redacted) yesterday. His name is Edward “Eddie” Rife. (Tressel is introduced, presumably for the first time, to what will ultimately become one of the most notorious names in Ohio State football history)
* He owns and operates a tattoo parlor called Fine Line Ink off Hague and Sullivant. (It would be surprising if this was the first time Tressel had heard the name of this tattoo parlor considering Tweets by Antonio Pittman and a few others that this has been going on for years).
* When the Federal Government raided his house yesterday they seized 70,000 in cash and a lot of Ohio State Memorabilia; including championship rings. (This right here should have been enough to infuriate Tressel or any college football coach) .
* I am being told (redacted) and other players have taken Eddie Rife signed Ohio State memorabilia (shirts/jerseys/footballs) to Eddie who has been selling for profit. I don’t know if he gives any money in return to any players. (Clearly these players aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their own heart. What’s the saying? Nothing in life is free?).
* I have been told OSU players including (redacted) have been given free tattoo’s in exchange for signed memorabilia.
p.s. Eddie was convicted about 9 years ago for felony forgery and possession of criminal tools in Franklin County. Case number 01 CR-3245 (Anyone could probably figure that out with enough research, but this points to the author’s credibility as a lawyer).
p.s.s. He also was with his friends (most in drug trafficking) at (redacted) where he witnessed the homicide of one of his friends that night in the parking lot; and where he was the State’s chief witness in that case 03 CR-922. (This is where Tressel first gets an inkling of how dangerous this Rife guy might be and what kind of stuff his players might really be wrapped up in).
p.s.s.s. The Federal Government was at his house for alleged drug trafficking, but they knew about the memorabilia before they even got there.
Tressel’s First Response – Friday April 02, 2010 6:32 PM (4 hours after receiving the first email)
From: Tressel, Jim
Subject : RE: (Redacted)
Thanks (Redacted)…I will get on it ASAP….Happy Easter to you as well!! Go Bucks!! jt (It’s interesting Tressel says he will “get on it ASAP.” Maybe he is just being nice because he gets so many e-mails, but this one certainly contained a lot of details and alarming information).
2nd Email – Friday, April 16, 2010 11:20 AM (Two weeks after the initial exchange)
Subject: (Redacted) and Eddie Rife Update
* I had Eddie Rife in my office for an hour and a half last night. (This is the first time Tressel learns the person e-mailing him is in direct contact with the party in question. Also points to the fact the author may be providing some type of legal advice to Rife).
* What I tell you is confidential. (This is the first time the author mentions this. The first email almost sounds as though the author is informing Tressel so he can do something about it).
* He told me has about 15 pairs of cleats (with signatures), 4-5 jerseys---all signed by players, the (redacted) (whoever that was awarded to). (Likely referring to Pryor’s Sportsmanship Award).
* He told me has about 9 rings Big Ten Championship, among them were (redacted), (redacted) and (redacted) (no surprise here), etc. (I didn’t press him for all the names because I didn’t want to emphasize this part of our meetings more than others). (When the author says “no surprise here” it would seem to be obvious, such as Maurice Clarett. Also the author makes it clear that his meeting with Rife is of a professional nature, not personal).
* (Redacted) National Championship ring (no surprise here either). (Again, possibly referring to Clarett).
* He will not talk publicly about this. (Which means he is sharing the information with the author in confidence).
* If (redacted) and he may, I will try to get these items back that the government now wants to keep for themselves; which is screwed up in an of itself. I know who specifically in the District Attorney’s office that is working on this matter. (Author seems to have a lead worth following here. Also shows first signs of being an Ohio State fan, or at least a fan of coach Tressel).
* These kids are selling these items for not that much and I can’t understand how they could give something so precious away like their trophy’s and rings that they worked hard for. My father had two jobs; he (large portion redacted) and when he got off work he spent 26 as a (redacted). (Large portion redacted). He died in 2001 at age 67. (Another large portion redacted). I don’t get it and I am still old fashioned. (This is where the biggest chunk of any email is blacked out).
* Just passing this info on…especially now that I actually talked to Mr. Rife. (The author does not appear to be a relative or close friend of Rife).
* Take care Coach. (Seems to consider Tressel to be “his coach,” meaning he is likely an Ohio State fan).
Tressel’s Second Response – Friday April 16, 2010 11:20 AM
From: Tressel, Jim
Subject : RE: (Redacted) and Eddie Rife Update
* I heard you!! It is unbelievable!! (Does Tressel answer all of his emails with multiple exclamation points?).
* Thanks for your help…keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up….jt (At this point the interaction seems to focus around the kids screwing up by selling rings and jerseys. Both Tressel and the author are focused on that aspect of the situation).
3nd Email – Friday, April 16, 2010 2:24 PM (Same day as the second email).
To: Tressel, Jim
Subject: (Redacted) and (redacted) Rife Update
* Only thing we can do is keep him, his house, his tattoo parlor off limits to players. I would also make sure you tell (redacted) and (redacted) (and whoever else) NOT to call him on his cell phone too because if he gets arrested, and that seems to be the plan, we don’t want their phone numbers in his cell phone that the government will trace. He really is a drug dealer. And I know (redacted) has his phone number and has called him. All I tell you is factual. (Again, the author is much more concerned with the players being implicated as associates of Rife’s than the fact they might be in danger based on their relationship with a known drug dealer).
* He is in really big trouble. The federal government has told him that his best offer is to take 10 years in prison. He wanted my opinion yesterday on his situation. (Again hinting to the fact that Rife was seeking out the author for legal advice).
* I will get you a slate photograph of him from the sheriff so you can show these guys you know what is going on and know who they are dealing with. (The author wants Tressel to alert his players to the fact he knows what is going on and inform them of who Rife really is. He never says that mentioning Rife to the players could jeopardize the investigation).
* Take care, I will keep you posted as relevant information becomes available to me. Just keep the emails confidential. Thank you. (This is the second time in two e-mails where the author has asked Tressel to keep the information confidential. He never mentions why, or that it could have an effect on the federal investigation).
(Assuming there are no missing e-mails, Tressel’s next response after the author tells him to make sure players aren’t calling Rife on his cell phone would not come for another six weeks).
Tressel’s Third Response – Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 7:33 AM (45 days after the last correspondence)
From: Tressel, Jim <TresselJ@buckeyes.ath.ohio-state.edu>
Our rings arrive this week for 2009 Big Ten…any names from our last discussion?? I would like to hold some collateral if you know what I mean…jt (This may be the most damning email for Tressel. After six weeks of no contact, the only thing Tressel wants to know is the names of the players involved so that he has “some collateral.” The word collateral here suggests Tressel would like to have something to hold over the players involved when it comes to handing out the 2009 rings).
4th Email – Tuesday, June 1, 2010 4:09 PM (Final email from the author to Tressel)
To: Tressel, Jim
Subject: (Redacted) and (redacted) Rife Update
* Coach, I am sorry for not getting back to you earlier. (It took Tressel 45 days to respond, and the author is apologizing because it took him nine hours).
* Since we last talked I had an (redacted) and while they were at it (redacted) I am fine now. (May suggest a medical procedure took place during those six weeks).
* No more names as the federal government appears to have reached a resolution for (redacted) Eddy Riffe (redacted). As a result, all communication (redacted) and the district attorney had to cease. (This is still six months before the district attorney would notify Ohio State of the events).
* The names I have you for the two current players are still good. (If Tressel felt compelled to e-mail the author for more names, he must have taken this as a legitimate concern).
* Those are some beautiful rings. I hope they cherish them forever. (Again, showing his Buckeye fanhood).
Tressel’s Fourth Response – Sunday, June 06, 2010 9:15 PM (Final correspondence comes five days after author’s last e-mail)
From: Tressel, Jim
Subject : RE: Names??
Thanks (Redacted). Hope you are feeling better!! Go Bucks!! jt
[Author's Note: Based on what we were given by Ohio State, we are led to believe this was the final interaction between the author and Tressel. The next time this subject would come up would be December when the district attorney placed a call to Ohio State. That is nearly eight months after they discovered the memorabilia in Rife’s home. It’s possible Tressel spoke to the two players implicated by the author, but he has made no mention of that.
It’s also possible there are missing e-mails, maybe because they were sensitive to the NCAA investigation, or maybe because they were incriminating to Tressel, the players or other parties. We may not know the truth until the documents are declassified by the National Security Archive in the year 2345.]
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