For the past year Shawn Darling has been the faceless name behind the shocking headlines accusing NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal of computer hacking, destroying evidence, and an alleged plot to have his former employee and friend brought up on charges of child pornography.
All of this remarkable behavior is alleged to be part of an effort to prevent the public — and his family — from finding out about O'Neal's numerous affairs.
Aside from Darling’s own criminal background — a 1999 check fraud conviction for which he was sentenced to serve 32 months in prison, and various charges in the state of Illinois — there’s little the public knows about the 41-year-old Florida resident. Shawn is now ready to come forward and speak out about O'Neal, and why he chose to hand over thousands of Shaq’s personal emails and texts to his estranged wife, Shaunie O’Neal, during the couple’s divorce proceedings.
On Friday, August 26, a Florida judge will decide whether or not those messages will be released to the public and ultimately determine if Darling’s story is a “complete and utter fabrication” conjured up by a disgruntled ex-employee “in search of a big pay day,” as Shaquille’s attorney declares, or the damning evidence that Darling claims will bring to light the shady, and at times illegal, behavior of one of the most beloved sports figures of his generation.
Now, in his explosive first interview, Shawn Darling gives the details of events that led to his 2010 lawsuit, and opens up about everything from the email account he says O’Neal asked him to host, the athlete’s myriad affairs, and a pattern of behavior that would shock even Shaq's most ardent fans.
After being introduced through mutual acquaintances at a party hosted by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs in 2005, Darling was later contacted by one of Shaquille O’Neal’s associates to set up computers and a home theater system at the condo where Shaq was residing, following a separation from his wife Shaunie.
However, it was a Thanksgiving call in 2007 when Shawn offered to bring Shaquille a keyboard to use with his new software, when Darling earned O’Neal’s trust and their relationship evolved. Soon Darling was part of Shaq's inner circle, one of his “boys,” and quickly became a regular at Shaq’s games and social gatherings.
By 2008, another relationship of Shaquille’s had evolved as well: his marriage. After calling off their divorce, Shaq and Shaunie began to reconcile and Shawn was introduced to Mrs. O’Neal. It didn't take long before Darling was brought in to consult on a technology-based business venture of Shaunie's. Shawn’s children were also acquainted with the O’Neal family, as they were often invited to tag along when Darling was working at the Orlando residence. The work/family dynamics became dangerously intertwined, and this would eventually come back to haunt O'Neal.
Shaq and the Mistresses
In the summer of 2008, 23-year-old Atlanta-based rapper Alexis “MaryJane” Miller came forward about her affair with Shaquille when she petitioned the court for a restraining order against the NBA legend, who at that time was playing for the Phoenix Suns. Miller alleges that O’Neal threatened her with bodily harm and harassing phone calls when she ended their relationship.
A Fulton County Superior Court Judge granted Miller’s request, temporarily barring Shaq from coming anywhere within 200 yards of the rapper and her 19-month-old son, and preventing the two from contacting one another until September 4, when the case would be revisited.
According to Darling, Miller’s restraining order sent O’Neal into full-on panic mode.
In late August, shortly after the order was issued, Darling claims that he received a phone call from Shaquille, telling him he needed Darling to immediately fly to Houston, and that one of his associates would contact him with more information.
When Darling received the second call, he was told that they were not meeting in Houston as Shaq had previously said, but that they were going to connect in Orlando, at Shaquille’s home, and was asked if he had heard anything in the news about Alexis Miller.
Shawn admitted to having some knowledge about the relationship between O’Neal and Miller, but it wasn’t until he arrived at Shaq’s house that he would discover why he was being called upon.
“I get up there and Shaquille says, ‘Look, here’s my phone, here’s my laptop, here’s the desktop I think I used I need to know what I texted her,’” Darling recalls. “He’s like, ‘I don’t know what machine I used, what computer I used I don’t know, but here’s my AOL account. Do whatever needs to be done; retrieve it. I need to know what I said.’”
After spending hours trying to recover the emails and text messages, including communicating with AOL and Shaquille’s attorney Dennis Roach — all to no avail — it was determined that O’Neal would essentially have to subpoena himself to get the information he sought.
“So, I completely wiped the computer like it was brand new,” says Darling. “I actually went a couple of steps above that and did what’s considered a ‘defense level wipe,’ which basically, you zero out the computer seven times.
“Zeroed it out, set it all up, and I’m like, ‘Look dude, here you go. I set it up. If I can’t get it, I just made sure that nobody else will be able to get it. I don’t know what you said at this point, but, hey, obviously, it was bad.’”
By Darling’s account, O’Neal then boxed up the computer, and with his associate Joe Caballero, got into his boat, drove out to Lake Butler, and threw the box into the water, only to return, hand Shawn over a thousand dollars in cash, and ask him to purchase a new one.
Shawn then recalls how Shaquille feverishly posted comments on various blogs under the guise of different aliases, trying to paint Miller as a “gold digger” in order to discredit her story (which Darling claims to have witnessed taking place in the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble).
This bizarre behavior compelled Shawn to ask Shaq what it was that Miller was after. Darling was told that Alexis had demanded $5,000/month for a year, which didn’t seem like much considering all that Shaq was going through to cover his tracks. Shawn states he’d seen O’Neal spend plenty on his other mistresses, wiring $5K “in a heartbeat” to help them pay their bills and other expenses. So why say no now? Darling asked Shaquille why he wouldn’t just pay her off.
O’Neal’s response: “Fuck that bitch! I don’t wanna give her nothin’!”
Shaq's Big Mistake
Over dinner, Shawn says he suggested Shaq purchase and set up his own domain, rather than relying on an antiquated AOL account to avoid this problem in the future. Intrigued, Shaquille asked Darling how to go about acquiring a domain.
Shawn asked O’Neal what domain name he’d like, and said he came up with Big32.com — a reference to his jersey number — which Shawn immediately purchased on the spot.
Darling claims that it was at this time he told Shaquille how to use the domain to host his emails, but O’Neal had a different idea in mind.
According to Shawn, their conversation went as follows:
Darling: Before we go get this computer, I can go buy you a little Mac Mini, we’ll turn it into your server, you’ve got a static IP address here, we’ll stick on there, and you won’t have this problem again. It’ll be on the server, in your house, you’ll be able to retrieve it whenever you want to.
O’Neal: Well wait, you’ve got a domain, right?
O’Neal: So you’ve got a server somewhere.
O’Neal: Well just keep it there. If I need it, I’ll call you; you can send me whatever.
“I set his domain up, pointed it to my server, said, ‘Here’s all the information you need.’ I said, ‘Listen, I know you’ve got a lot of email addresses, phones, whatever Forward them to this email address.’ I said, ‘Now, that way, I’ll have a copy of it. So, I’ll have a copy, you ever need it, boom, just forward them, here’s how to do it. If you set up a new email account, set the forwards up, it’ll forward there automatically, you’ll never even have to worry about it.’
“He said, ‘Alright, cool.’”
But, as Shawn says, “It was pretty much set and forgotten about,” and O’Neal and Alexis Miller later settled out of court.
Tomorrow, Shawn Darling details Shaquille O’Neal’s extramarital affairs, the alleged abandonment of his wife and kids, and how Darling ended up working with Shaunie O’Neal in an attempt to help Vanessa Lopez go public with her story—a plan that eventually backfired.