Cooper involved in credit card fraud

by Joe Christensen

Coach Jim Wacker’s decision to kick Rafael Cooper off the football team last week was partly rooted in the knowledge that the star running back had forged a signature on a stolen credit card.
Wacker dismissed Cooper after police alleged he played a role in the theft of another student’s checkbook. Wacker said last week that three separate incidents led to his decision but refused to give details.
Cooper, 21, continues to insist he was wronged by the dismissal, but he admits to making mistakes during his time at the University. From his home Wednesday in Detroit, he gave his account of the three incidents:
ù Police questioned Cooper after he got into a fight about 2« months ago during a basketball game at the University Recreational Sports Center. Nobody pressed charges.
ù Cooper was indirectly involved in an April 7 theft at Sanford Hall along with Gophers freshmen Tony Vann and Spergon Wynn, who have been suspended by Wacker for one game. Cooper said he returned the victim’s checkbook under an assumed name and kept $20 to 25 of the $150 that Vann and Wynn stole from the student’s room.
ù Cooper forged a signature on a stolen credit card while making a purchase with Vann and Wynn about 3« months ago. He said he charged more than $100 in shoes for himself and, regretting it, turned the amount over to a Gophers assistant coach.
Cooper started three games as a sophomore last season when senior running back Chris Darkins was injured and was expected to be the No. 1 back this fall. Cooper said he plans to accept a scholarship offered by the University of Louisville (Ky.) and remained critical of Wacker’s decision.
“Why would you kick players off that are going to help the team?” Cooper said. “You need to kick players off who are not going to help the team.”
Cooper compared his situation to former Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, the No. 6 pick in last month’s NFL draft. Phillips was suspended for six games last season after pleading no contest to charges he assaulted his girlfriend. Phillips had been suspended previously after reaching an out-of-court settlement for fighting but still returned to play in the Orange Bowl as Nebraska won the national title.
For the assault charges, Phillips is on probation until Nov. 29 and faces 30 days in jail if he breaks the terms of his probation.
“(Wacker) could have kept me there,” Cooper said. “He said something about three strikes. What the hell does he mean three strikes? I didn’t go to jail or anything.”
Wacker said Cooper was dismissed while Vann and Wynn were merely suspended because, “There were three offenses, and the other guys were involved in two.” He refused to give details, and Wynn and Vann did not return phone calls.
“We will win with good kids doing what’s right and refuse to do what’s wrong,” Wacker said. “They must know the difference. … And the players know that. … They are told that time after time.”
University men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart gave his full support to Wacker, who has a 12-32 record in four years at Minnesota.
“I’m proud of the fact that Coach Wacker and his staff would stay true to the values that they have in spite of the fact that we are under the gun to win,” Dienhart said.
“If Rafael thinks that the only thing that would justify getting dismissed from one of our teams is going to jail, he and I are very much on a different page. And it seems quite clear we are on a different page.”