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Called FOR Traveling
Leigh Montville
April 20, 1998
APRIL 15 IS A DAY OF TORMENT FOR FOUR NBA REFEREES WHO PLEADED GUILTY TO TAX FRAUD AND LOST THEIR JOBS BECAUSE THEY CASHED IN AIRLINE TICKETS—AND DIDN'T REPORT THE INCOME
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April 20, 1998

Called For Traveling

APRIL 15 IS A DAY OF TORMENT FOR FOUR NBA REFEREES WHO PLEADED GUILTY TO TAX FRAUD AND LOST THEIR JOBS BECAUSE THEY CASHED IN AIRLINE TICKETS—AND DIDN'T REPORT THE INCOME

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He is an unlikely prisoner in an unlikely prison. The days go past, into daylight saving time now, and George Toliver contemplates his freedom. He knows everything he will do on April 29, when he finally can leave his home. He has a schedule. "I'll take the kids to school in the morning....

"Then I'll play a round of golf....

"Then I'll have lunch with a friend....

"Then I'll take a nap....

"Then I'll run a basketball practice for my girls' team....

"Then I'll go to an awards dinner for the team....

"Then I'll go to the movies. I want to see Titanic. I've been hoping all along that it'll stay in the theater long enough for me to get there. I checked the paper this morning. It's still around."

This is the sixth and final month of his home detention, his sentence for tax fraud. He has been home for Halloween and home for Thanksgiving and home for Christmas and now home for Easter. There are worse places to be, for sure, than this tidy little house with its tidy little lawn and its hoop in the driveway on the outskirts of Harrisonburg, Va., surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, but a prison is a prison is a prison. This is a 47-year-old man who has spent a lot of time away from home. He does not have much experience with confinement.

"I'd be on the road for 20, 22 days of every month," he says. "The longest trips would be, maybe, 10 days, and I'd come back for a couple of days and then would be gone again. Up early in the morning. Off to the airport. Hoping the weather would be all right, the plane would be all right."

For nine years he was an NBA referee, one of only 58 officials, a force of justice stepping into the large arenas of the land, trying to bring order to the chaos on the hardwood floors, separating the charging fouls from the blocking fouls and telling Mr. Charles Barkley to please keep quiet. He had a whistle and a life that he loved. When the NBA called, in 1988, he had debated whether to take the job, worrying about the travel and the amount of work. He made dozens of those lists, FOR on the top of one column, AGAINST on the other. The AGAINST list always was longer. The FOR sometimes had only one entry: I love to referee basketball. That was enough.

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