"Clyde The Glide" Austin

I'm still basking in the glow of the National Championship, but maybe this would be a good time to write about a subject that has been on my mind, off and on, since last June. That was when Clyde Austin, a former star basketball player at N.C. State was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison for fraud and money laundering in the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va. Austin is remembered by old timers as the victim of Dudley Bradley's steal in the closing moments of a UNC-N.C. State game in Reynolds Coliseum to defeat the Wolfpack. It was one of the most exciting finishes in ACC history since Carolina had just taken a shot which, if good, would have put the Heels ahead. The shot missed and Austin got the rebound. As he was coming upcourt and the State fans were going wild at the prospects of winning after having erased a big Carolina lead, Bradley stole the ball and made a monster dunk. State had one last shot but missed from midcourt and you could hear a pin drop in Reynolds Coliseum.

You might wonder why I want to write about Austin when I have never met him. I felt like I knew him, however, since there was a connection between a former assistant of mine and Austin. They had played high school basketball together here in Richmond and he would tell me stories stories about Austin as the two would meet occasionally over the years.

The first story I heard was that Austin had accidentally shot his toe off one night as they were riding around in an automobile. I have no idea what the gun was doing in the car but we might be surprised at how many guns are in cars, some for good reasons and others for reasons that are questionable. I mention this because, if true, this makes Austin's basketball accomplishments even more amazing because the loss of a toe to a basketball player is no minor thing.

I also remember a quote from Austin during his freshman year after a game in the old Big Four Tournament in Greensboro. When he was asked by reporters about the large number of turn overs he had in the game, Austin's response was that he "didn't know they kept up with things like that." Welcome to the ACC.

But back to Austin's difficulties that caused him to have to spend the next 16 1/2 years in prison. My assistant had told me that Austin was doing well financially. He had a big car, owned an eating establishment near St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, and for a while, performed with the Harlem Globetrotters. Oh, I almost forgot. He had become a minister.

According to Austin, he developed an investment scheme that was going to make everybody involved a lot of money with little or no risk. What Austin didn't tell his investors was that he had met Mr. Ponzi. Ponzi is the father of the pyramid scheme which periodically makes an appearance on the national scene as a "get rich quick" approach to investing. I don't doubt that Austin originally intended to help those who gave him money to invest, but it's hard to believe that anyone cannot fail to see that the Ponzi scheme will eventually peter out. If you get your money early and get out, you are safe, but those who remain the scheme are doomed to eventually lose their money. Huge profits are promised but the only way they can be paid is if new investors are located. Eventually, funds coming in are not sufficient to pay the early investors and the scheme collapses.

What makes Austin's situation worse than most is that he took money from over 1000 investors who trusted him as a minister, only to see their investment disappear when the recruitment of new investors ran out. The total amount of money involved was over $16 million dollars. Austin was ordered by the judge to make restitution but there is little hope that investors will ever see any return on and of their investment.

Many of the investors were in the court room when Austin was sentenced. J. B. Thomas of Belpre, Ohio came "to see justice done" and he said he was not sure it was done. M. Thomas lost $215,000 in his dealings with Austin.

The most tragic part of the Clyde Austin story is that many of the investors were people he had met through his ministry and it causes one to wonder if Austin tried to capitalize on the position of trust he had by virtue of being a minister. Two of the co-defendants were also ministers. Austin said there was one thing he hadn't counted on and that " one thing was greed." When arrested, he was operating out of Las Vegas, Nevada, a long way from his roots in Richmond.

I think of Austin every now and then and I must admit I feel somewhat sorry for him.
He did wrong, but there is a possibility he lacked the knowledge to understand exactly what he was doing. He will have a long time to ponder his behavior, but it's difficult to see how the 1000 persons swindled out of their money will be made whole again. I feel sorry for the victims, but it's difficult to understand why they were so willing to part with what, in some cases, were their retirement funds. Sad situation all around.