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Four UCLA Players Plead No Contest

September 15, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The city attorney’s office maintains that what Cade McNown’s lawyer calls his ``exemplary life″ includes an illegal quarterback sneak.

While four more defendants in UCLA’s handicapped parking scandal pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge as part of a plea agreement, the case of McNown was put off until the end of the month.

McNown, the first-team All-America quarterback as a senior last year, and four other former or current UCLA players were charged Monday with illegally possessing a handicap parking placard.

The five were scheduled for arraignment Tuesday, and all had their cases continued until Sept. 30.

The city attorney’s office has brought charges against a total of 19 current or former Bruins alleged to be part of the disabled parking scam.

``We looked at these cases long and hard before we filed them,″ deputy city attorney Brian Williams said of his office’s latest action. ``We know we can prove the cases, there’s no doubt about that.

``We’re alleging there is a false name on the application, or the doctor who signed it says she didn’t.″

McNown’s attorney, Ronald Safer, refused to say how his client would plead, but said the Chicago Bears rookie was ``deeply troubled″ by the charge and was legitimately entitled to the placard when he used it briefly nearly three years ago.

``You’ll have to come Sept. 30 to see how he pleads,″ Safer said outside Los Angeles Municipal Court. ``This is somebody who has not been near any kind of trouble in his life. He has lived an exemplary life.″

Mark Reynosa and Duval Hicks, who played for the Bruins last year, and Durell Price and James Ghezzi, members of this year’s team, entered their no-contest pleas before Municipal Judge Sam Ohta.

Nine of the other current or former UCLA players who were charged July 8 entered no-contest pleas three weeks later.

As was the case with other defendants who pleaded no contest, Reynosa, Hicks, Price and Ghezzi were ordered to pay to pay $1,485 in fines and perform 200 hours of community service.

The athletes also must spend a day meeting with the disabled and their advocates.

The case of Craig Walendy, another whose UCLA career finished last year, was continued until Sept. 30, but Williams said that was because his attorney was unavailable, and added he expected Walendy to also plead no contest.

The nine who are members of the current team were suspended for the season’s first two games. They will return Saturday night against Fresno State, with six in the starting lineup.

In addition, Williams said, cases involving junior tailback Keith Brown, who was also suspended for the first two games this year, and former UCLA player Akil Davis are still being evaluated.

Charged Monday along with McNown were running back Skip Hicks of the Washington Redskins, safety Larry Atkins of the Kansas City Chiefs, former linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and defensive back Eric Whitfield, a member of the current team who also served the two-game suspension.

All were said to have illegally obtained the handicapped parking placards in 1996 and 1997.

Safer said he didn’t believe there was any evidence McNown ever parked in a handicapped spot.

``He completed the application on Jan. 4, he was injured,″ Safer said. ``He received the placard sometime later. He does not recall using a handicapped spot.″

Asked if McNown used a doctor’s name on the form, Safer said, ``He did not complete that part of the form. That portion of the form was completed, but not by him.″

Safer wouldn’t elaborate.

``He was 19 years old when he did it,″ Safer said. ``He used the placard only a handful of times. When he recovered from his injury, he put the placard away forever.″

Now 22, McNown was a first-round draft choice of the Bears last April.

``It’s their absolute right to go to trial,″ Williams said of the five most recently charged. ``We’ll just let a jury decide if that happens. Each of their cases has their individual wrinkles. (McNown’s) wrinkle isn’t so great to take him out of the sphere of culpability.″

David Altman, an associate of attorney Robert Shapiro who represented Price and Ghezzi, said there was never any question his clients would take responsibility for their actions.

``There might have been some misunderstanding about their continuance,″ Altman said, adding that the only reason such an action was taken was to give him time to gather information.

``They’re two very, very nice guys,″ he said.

Price said he was doing his best to put the matter behind him.

``I’ve apologized a thousand times to everyone who would listen, especially my teammates and my family,″ he said. ``I’m ready to move on.″

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