This is probably the craziest sports media story you will read this year. In fact you might ever see another sports media story like it. Ever. Deadspin broke the news the other day that Covers.com and ESPN freelance gambling writer Sarah Phillips had conned at least two people out of money or property. The story is so large, and crazy, that it takes a few reads of the various articles written on it to make any sense of it.
I don’t follow sports betting circles. I have no interest in it whatsoever. I’d never heard of Sarah Phillips 48 hours ago. However, within those circles she had gained fame over the past 2 years as a writer. First on Covers.com, where she was originally a poster on the forums, then on ESPN.com’s Page 2. ESPN has a number of freelance writers on staff for their website. Its a good way for a company with a vast output of material to keep staff writers to a minimum, while having various writers who specialize in what they write about. Phillips was one of those. She wrote about betting.
You can read the original Deadspin report here, which I highly recommend. In that report are allegations of how Phillips, alongside Nilesh “Nick” Prasad, had conned a 19 year-old university student out of his Basketball Memes Facebook page. They used scare tactics, such as threats of lawsuits, to force the kid to give up administrative rights to his page. Then when he asked for it back because he wanted out, they refused. However, as it turns out, this was only the beginning.
Phillips had also scammed a Los Angeles man named Matt. She had promised him a piece of a new website she was launching. All he had to do was provide a couple thousand dollars as a start-up cost to attract advertising. She said that her ESPN and Covers connections would result in high traffic, and could eventually net Matt a fair sum of money when ESPN bought them out. This website never launched. And just as they had with the university kid, they severed all connection with Matt shortly after taking his money.
But, there’s more. Two average Americans who run parody Twitter accounts of Happy Gilmore and John Madden were also invited to join in on this new website. The new website, or as she called it, FauxESPN.com would be the next big thing on the internet, she promised. Six-figure annual salaries awaited them for mostly doing what they already do on Twitter. She obviously had big post-ESPN plans. And because she had ESPN attached to her name, despite the fact she still lived and worked from home in Oregon, everyone believed she was the real deal.
Last August Aaron Nilsen of Nilsen Report offered to help Phillips gain followers on Twitter. She had just begun working for ESPN and had less than 400 followers. She told Nilsen if he could get her up to 2000 followers in a week she would pay him $500. Instead he offered to sell her his Twitter account, which already had 2000 followers, for $500. She agreed. He never received the money. The account Phillips currently uses (@SarahPhilli) sent out its first Tweet on August 15, the deadline.
Someone using Phillips’ Gmail account (I think it was Prasad) threatened Nilsen with a lawsuit (what a suprise!) for continually requesting the money Phillips owed him. Nilsen was also told he could have the account back, but Phillips was going to block all of her/his followers first. Phillips has indicated she loves the block feature on Twitter. It is also now known that she tried to gain access to the parody Happy Gilmore and John Madden accounts. She has also bought various other accounts where she has posed as the original owner directing people to her account, or her work on ESPN.
But, the questions really is, who exactly is Sarah Phillips. Is she the 22-year-old gambler she claims to be? Is she a con artist? Is she controlled by Prasad? It seems that she is in fact 22, a recent university graduate. She went to middle school and high school in Oregon. Prasad went to the same schools, but was a few years earlier. It seems this is a real picture of her. This one, which she posted on her first Covers article, is not. I don’t think she was trying to deceive anybody about who she was. She used her real name, and ultimately a real picture of herself. Sure, originally she didn’t use a real picture of herself in her article, but I never have either.
Locals from Oregon say she and Prasad dated in high school. As I mentioned, she was a bit younger than Prasad. It seems he had control over her actions. He either initiated her interest in sports gambling, or simply wrote many of her columns for her using his knowledge of betting and her pretty face as a winning combination. It seems that Nilesh Prasad was also behind the Navin Prasad Facebook account. Navin claimed the two Prasads where not related. But I wouldn’t doubt they are the same person. This account was used to threaten the NBA memes kid in much the same fashion as Nilsen was threatened. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.
It seems that a lot of truth, with just a little lying and some baseless threats propelled these scams to work. Phillips posted lots of facts. She liked Jersey Shore. She went to Oregon University. She wanted to start a website. However, just a little fiction, such as the promised amounts of income, is what made this plan as successful as it was.
If anything good as come of this, it is that Phillips has apparently severed ties with Prasad. She seemed to indicate on Twitter that Prasad had control of her Facebook, Twitter and Gmail accounts, where he was able to execute crucial parts of his plans. As she mentioned on Twitter, she had very little to do with the NBA Memes situation. This is somewhat confirmed as the transcripts that were released from this were between (Navin) Prasad and the university student who created the page.