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EXCUSE ME, IS THIS A UNIVERSITY OR A PRISON FARM?

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She locked the door for the night as soon as the two Arizona State athletes stepped into the street.

That night, the Hub clothing store, just a block away at 522 South Mill, was robbed. Smith and McGee have since admitted they did it.

Now the pair was back at the Leather Mill again. But Bunny Stoller wasn't on hand to identify them to Mitch, who was busily waiting on other customers.

Once again McGee and Smith went through the ritual of trying on the same jackets. Mitch kept bustling about with the other customers. The pair preened before a mirror, admiring how they looked.

The theory of the theft had been worked out in advance. Smith would leave the store and start up the car, parked a short distance away. Then McGee, extremely quick on his feet, would snatch the jackets and run to the car with them under his arm.

Running at top speed with something under his arm is, of course, a talent quite similar to the one Coach Snyder will call upon McGee to display for thousands of Sun Devil football fans this Saturday against Louisville.

When Mitch Stoller walked to the rear of the store to assist a woman shopper from Paradise Valley, McGee snatched not two, but three leather jackets and rolled out onto Mill Avenue.

The shopkeeper heard the quick shuffle of feet as McGee scurried to escape. Stoller chased after him, his middle-aged lungs bursting. But Stoller slipped and fell to the pavement.

A man parking his bicycle near the Coffee Plantation saw what was happening. He followed the sprinting ASU football player on his bike. He saw McGee leap into a Dodge Dart with California plates and be driven away. A tee shirt had been carefully placed over the rear license plates so that the numbers could not be identified.

This was a well-executed theft that somehow went wrong. The store owner had seen McGee leave with the jackets. The man on the bike had chased him. McGee and Smith were worried that someone had read the license plate number from the front plate.

A quick decision was made by the football players. They would cut their losses. They would return the jackets and attempt to avoid prosecution.

Less than two hours later, a young man since identified as Demond Sampson, a cornerback on the Sun Devil football team, entered the Leather Mill carrying the three stolen leather jackets valued at approximately $1,000.

"I can't believe the boys did that," Sampson told Bunny Stoller as he returned the leather jackets. Sampson identified himself not as a member of the Sun Devil football team, but as a shocked "uncle" of the two young boys who had stolen the jackets.

As you can see, this current crop of Sun Devil athletes is adept at the art of the con as well as the snatch and grab.

Later, when Tim Smith made his statement to the police admitting his part, he did not identify his accomplice as McGee. He told police that the man who stole the merchandise from the stores was a cousin. Smith told the cops how the thefts had been accomplished. They hardly seem to stem from the wrong decisions of good young men that Harris speaks about. They are clearly the work of schooled street punks.

I am reminded of what Barry Switzer said about recruiting players who turned out bad:

"He was a criminal. No program can detect that."
But Arizona State, with Harris in charge, seems to have recruited an entire class of criminals from the ghettos of this country stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.

It is no exaggeration to call this an "outlaw program."
In explaining himself to the cops, Smith said he and McGee would browse in a store for a while and then grab what they wanted and run to their car, usually parked across the street.

Smith told police that on October 22, 1991, they had bolted from the University Sporting Goods store at 1038 South Mill with Los Angeles Raiders jackets still on the hangers. On December 9 of that year, they had run out with shirts and jeans from the Hub clothing store at 522 South Mill.

There were other incidents for which the police dropped charges in exchange for the confession.

Although Smith was interviewed as long ago as last December 17 in the presence of Dave Boller, an ASU administrative assistant for football, no one in the athletic department wants to admit they knew of McGee's connection.

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Tom Fitzpatrick