Basketball Insiders Deny Bribe Charges as Trial Tips Off

Christian Dawkins arrives to court in New York on March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Giving their opening statement for two sports industry insiders charged with bribing college coaches, defense attorneys did not use the word “entrapment” but painted their clients Tuesday as unwitting patsies for the FBI.

“I’ve never heard a story where two guys board a two-story yacht and it ends up good,” chuckled Steven Haney, a self-described Michigander who addressed the jury today with robust Midwest neighborliness. 

Haney represents Christian Dawkins, 24, an aspiring sports agent who is alleged to have attracted talent to his firm, L.O.Y.D. Management, by bribing assistant coaches from Nike-sponsored schools.

Kicking off this morning in Lower Manhattan, the trial of Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code follows another college basketball corruption case in which athletic apparel executives were accused of paying off the families of college players.

Haney said the bribery scheme for which Dawkins has been charged was broached in the summer of 2017 when an undercover FBI agent posing as an investor named Jeff D’Angelo handed Dawkins a duffel bag packed with thousands of dollars of cash on a two-story yacht docked in Lower Manhattan.

It is undisputed that Dawkins took money, but Haney said this was because the payment “had one purpose and one purpose only, to fund L.O.Y.D. Management.”

Haney said D’Angelo encouraged Dawkins to pay assistant coaches in cash — a bribe for coaches who would then encourage players to sign with L.O.Y.D. upon declaring for the NBA draft — but said Dawkins grew disgusted with this arrangement.

Instead of following the D’Angelo model, as Haney called it, Dawkins decided he would “take this fool’s money.”

After depositing D’Angelo’s money into an ATM in Las Vegas, Dawkins offered his friend Book Richardson, then an assistant basketball coach at University of Arizona, a veritable “playbook” to do just that.

Haney said Dawkins didn’t want a kickback for this so-called “coaches model”: When Richardson asked what Dawkins wanted in return for “the play” on bleeding the investor’s funds, Dawkins replied “I’m Gucci.”

Haney defined the slang for the jury: “Evidence will show ‘I’m Gucci’ means ‘I’m good, I don’t need anything from you.’”

“They all took this fool’s money,” Haney concluded.

Richardson pleaded guilty in earlier proceedings to one count of federal funds bribery. Richardson was one of four assistant coaches who accepted plea deals. The government says Dawkins and Code also made quid pro quo payments to coaches at South Carolina, University of Southern California, Creighton and Texas Christian University.

Former amateur basketball league director Merl Code leaves federal court in New York on Oct. 24, 2018. Code and two co-defendants were convicted of committing fraud by plying families of college basketball prospects with cash so the prospects would attend colleges sponsored by Adidas. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In contrast to Haney’s carpet-bombing of loud and pronounced folksiness, Code’s attorney Andy Matthias delivered his 16-minute openings in a more quiet and subdued manner, reflecting his defense that Code played lesser and diminutive role in the alleged bribery scheme

“He is not the star of the show,” Matthias said of Code, insisting that his client only got paid to make introductions and was never on board with the scheme to bribe college coaches.            

Matthias told jurors that Code had even advised “his guys” to not take any money from Dawkins or Dawkins’ business partner, Munish Sood, a New Jersey financial adviser who pleaded guilty in August 2018 to charges of bribery and fraud.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark told a different story in his 20-minute opener, contending that it was Code who advised Dawkins that the key to success was paying off the people whom the young players trusted the most.

“Code got paid in exchange for bringing dirty coaches to the table,” Mark told the jury.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos is presiding over Code and Dawkins’ trial, which is expected to last two weeks.

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