(CN) - A former St. John's basketball standout says he was kicked off the team because the community college he transferred from falsified his transcripts.
Westchester Community College men's basketball coach Tyrone Mushatt told Keith Thomas he was being scouted by various Division I colleges, including St. John's, and that WCC staff would "handle all aspects of any potential transfers...including course transcripts," according to a lawsuit filed by Thomas on Tuesday in Westchester County, N.Y. Supreme Court.
Despite Thomas' trust in them to "properly and honestly handle" the applications, he says Mushatt and his coaching staff instead sent a falsified academic record to St. John's, who then offered Thomas a scholarship and a spot on its NCAA Division I team in July 2014.
Just three months later, though, Thomas was booted from the team and expelled from St. John's - apparently because of a 2014 Journal News investigation into other cases of transcript fraud at WCC, which prompted a probe into player transcripts from the past three to five years.
Thomas' forged transcript shows that he got some A's and mostly B's at WCC, according to a USA Today report.
On Oct. 29, 2014, Queens-based St. John's issued a statement announcing the ineligibility of the forward, who had led all Division I junior college players in rebounds.
"Academic integrity is treated very seriously at St. John's University and we are committed to maintaining high academic standards for all of our student-athletes," St. John's Director of Athletics Chris Monasch said. "Our athletic compliance office recently became aware of information that triggered an additional review of Thomas' academic credentials at Westchester Community College. Our assessment and decision are in accordance with university and NCAA policies."
According to the Journal News report from October 2014, WCC fired assistant coach Richard Fields after he admitted he provided a forged transcript for another player, Jamell Walker, whose scholarship was later pulled by Florida A&M. WCC player Damien Davis was also kicked off of the Florida team, the report says.
WCC canceled its basketball season in October 2014 after the Journal News report.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin said in a statement that the team shares in Thomas' disappointment and "will provide moral support during this challenging time in his life."
Thomas seeks an unspecified amount of damages from Westchester County for WCC's alleged negligence and his "emotional stress and trauma", the complaint says. The stress was exacerbated by local and national news stories about Thomas and the scandal, which "harm[ed] his chances to rebuild his future," according to the lawsuit.
Thomas is represented by Julius Cohn of Cohn & Spector in White Plains, N.Y.
A WCC spokesman declined to comment, citing the school's cooperation with an investigation by the New York State Office of the Inspector General and the Westchester County District Attorney's Office.
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