Off-field trouble involving Georgia football players overshadowed what should have been an upbeat start of spring practices on Tuesday.
On the same day new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt worked on the field with his players for the first time following his January hire from Florida State, the arrests of four players Monday night became the focal point.
Sophomore safety Tray Matthews, a starter for six games last season, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, junior defensive end James DeLoach and redshirt freshman wide receiver Uriah LeMay were each charged with multiple counts of theft by deception for their involvement in twice cashing UGA issued checks
They were released on bonds from the Clarke County Jail late Monday and on the practice field late Tuesday afternoon.
“Obviously, we had some guys do some things that were foolish and they’ll be consequences for that,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said Tuesday night after practice. “I’m not ready to talk about that at this moment.”
University of Georgia police allege 11 student tuition checks were drawn from UGA Athletic Association accounts and cashed twice, according to a police incident report. The players were “basically double-dipping,” by receiving the funds twice, in the words of UGA police chief Jimmy Williamson.
The checks were each in the amount of $71.50 and the total loss is valued at $786.50.
All charges are misdemeanors since they are of less than $500 value.
Matthews, from Newnan, is facing three counts. Taylor and DeLoach, from Millen, are facing two counts each and LeMay, from Matthews, N.C., is facing four.
Matthews, Taylor and DeLoach are alleged to have electronically deposited the checks through a mobile banking app into three different Wells Fargo accounts and then cashed the same paper check at an unknown local convenience store with an account at SunTrust bank, the report said.
LeMay’s roommate, also a UGA athlete, initially cashed four checks electronically and then discarded them. LeMay is alleged to have taken the cash that was trashed and presented it for cash or deposit through a Wells Fargo account.
“You’re disappointed, obviously,” Richt said when asked what his reaction is to getting news about what the players are alleged to have done.
Richt didn’t rule out any player dismissals despite the players practicing.
“I would just say there’s always a process that I go through before I make a decision,” he said. “Sometimes it happens rapidly and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not going to say anything other than if there’s something I need to report to everybody, I will.”
A Georgia assistant athletic director who works in finance met with UGA police on March 3 to report the checks cashed twice and police began to investigate. Warrants were issued for the arrests of the players on Monday and a Clarke County Magistrate Court judge signed the warrant.
“We normally don’t take out warrants on students during spring break because we’re afraid they may get stopped,” Williamson said. “I don’t want one of them to get stopped for some traffic violation and then that county lock them up. We would do that for all students.”
The UGA finance and administration accounts payable and UGA Athletic Association accounts payable department noticed the same numbers were appearing twice, Williamson said.
Williamson already got an email Tuesday morning from someone wondering why UGA athletics would turn in their own players.
He said UGA athletics reported the case “because it’s a fraud issue so they have to account for any type of money. From an accounting standpoint, they get audited every year. And No. 2, it’s a compliance issue, there are athletes that received double funding and they want to make sure people know it wasn’t them giving double. They’re almost obligated to report whether they wanted to or not. I’m not saying they didn’t want to.”
UGA athletic officials other than Richt declined to comment about the case.
Matthews was a top candidate to start at safety, where the Bulldogs already lost dismissed starter Josh Harvey-Clemons last month after he was suspended twice and was in violation of Georgia’s marijuana policy.
Matthews had 36 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble last season.
The other players were backups looking to earn increased playing time this spring.
“These guys are not going to be perfect,” Richt said. “I know that. If they do something that needs discipline, we’re going to give it. We’re going to do that. If it causes a guy not to be at Georgia, then that’s what will happen.”