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A professional gambler pleaded guilty on Thursday to making bets based on inside tips from former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.

James Battista told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn he hatched a scheme in late 2006 with another old friend of Donaghy, Thomas Martino, to pay the referee thousands of dollars for the information while Battista was "engaged in the business of sports betting."

Battista's lawyer had notified the court last week that his client wanted to go to trial rather than plead guilty to charges of defrauding the NBA, as Martino did earlier this month. But he changed his mind after prosecutors offered a last-minute deal allowing him to instead plead guilty to a lesser charge of conspiring to make illegal bets, said the lawyer, Jack McMahon.

"He's a gambler, and he bet," McMahon said. "We never really contested that."

The deal spares Donaghy from having to testify as the government's star witness at a high-profile federal trial. It also means Battista, 42, will face only 10 to 16 months in prison at sentencing on July 11. By contrast, Martino faces 12 to 18 months.

Donaghy, of Bradenton, Fla., pleaded guilty last year to charges he conspired to engage in wire fraud and transmitted betting information through interstate commerce.

The referee said he made NBA bets for four years, even wagering on games he worked. He also admitted recommending bets to high-stakes gamblers and collecting $5,000 if his picks hit.

Donaghy, 41, is scheduled to be sentenced May 22. By law, he faces up to 25 years in prison, though the term could be much lower under sentencing guidelines.

The three men attended high school together in Springfield, Pa


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