Levi McLean Franklin Coolley, a 33-year-old fan who regularly traveled with the Missouri men’s basketball team on flights to NCAA Tournament destinations since 2009, is one of eight people from Columbia facing federal drug charges for a suspected cocaine ring in Boone County.
The Columbia Tribune first reported ties with Coolley and the Missouri program in a Sunday story that obtained manifest flight requests via an open records request. Records showed that Coolley had accompanied the team on previous March flights to Boise, Idaho and Phoenix, Ariz., in 2009; to Buffalo, N.Y., in 2010 and to Washington D.C. last season. Records also showed that he had traveled back with the team from Austin, Texas, this past January.
FBI agents arrested Coolley on felony counts of cocaine distribution at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Omaha, Neb., on the morning of March 16, his birthday, and hours before Missouri’s loss in a second-round match with Norfolk State. In an interview by the Tribune, athletic director Mike Alden expressed that he was “shocked” with the news that greeted him as he returned to the team hotel from a walk to Starbucks.
Coolley, an owner of Midwest Audio Visions selling car stereos, was on the flight to Omaha as a guest of team donor Jay Lindner, president of the Forum Development Group, a real estate development company in Columbia founded by Jose Lindner, Jay Lindner’s father who died in 2010.
In the article, Missouri officials explained that major donors such as Lindner have the option of purchasing extra tickets for guests of their choice, who do not undergo any university background checks.
A separate records request by the Tribune revealed that players had provided tickets to eight games at Mizzou Arena during the 2009 season, when Mike Anderson was coaching the Tigers before taking the position at Arkansas after the 2010-2011.
Anderson coached each year that records showed Coolley’s attendance on team flights. Frank Haith filled Anderson’s position after coaching the past seven seasons at Miami, and was soon later mentioned in a Yahoo! Sports report that revealed details into Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro’s distribution of player benefits.
Haith, the reigning Associated Press Coach of the Year following a 30-5 season, has denied involvement with Shapiro as the NCAA continues its investigation.
Mary Austin, senior associate athletic director for compliance and one Missouri official interviewed by the Tribune, said players did have contact with Coolley, as he was a frequent fan on and off the road. She said, though, that the relationship was not a “close” one.
"It can be virtually impossible to be able to determine the backgrounds of every single person that has an affinity for your program," Alden said in the article. "I think you have a high level of responsibility, but certainly there's also a high level of inability to be able to monitor every single person that has access to your kids."