Feds Charge 10 in College Basketball Bribery Probe

MANHATTAN (CN) — Bound to shake up the ongoing NCAA season, federal prosecutors accused 10 coaches, managers, financial advisers and sportswear executives on Tuesday morning of corrupting college basketball.

“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one,” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim told reporters at a noon press conference, exposing what he called the sport’s “dark underbelly” in more than 100 pages of court papers.

The four coaches involved — Auburn University’s Chuck Person, Emanuel Richardson of the University of Arizona, Tony Bland of the University of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State — have all been arrested.

While the coaches took cash bribes, Kim said, there were managers and advisers “circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits.”

Person, who joined the Indiana Pacers as the fourth overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, is a central figure of the government’t case.

“I got some great great, I mean, great great ball players,” Person told the government’s confidential witness, according to the complaint. “[University-1]’s never seen these players since, um, Charles Barkley, myself, and Chris Morris. This is unbelievable… I got a kid, he’s ranked ninth in the country.”

Prosecutors say the Alabama-based coach raked in $91,500 over the course of 10 months by steering players he believed to be NBA-bound to this witness.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim speaks to reporters on Sept. 26, 2017, about three criminal complaints filed that morning, accusing 10 coaches, managers, financial advisers and sportswear executives of corrupting college basketball. (ADAM KLASFELD, CNS)

Without identifying the players, court papers state that Person urged one of his young athletes to keep tight-lipped with everyone except his mother and step-father about setting up a meeting the confidential witness.

“Don’t share with your sisters,” Person warned him on Dec. 12, 2016, according to the complaint. “Don’t share with any of the teammates.”

Person allegedly planned to introduce this athlete to NBA-player-turned-sportswear designer Rashan Michel, who is also charged with bribery, conspiracy and honest services fraud in one of the complaints.

“That’s very important cause this is a violation … of rules, but this is how the NBA players get it done,” the complaint quotes Person as saying. “They get early relationships, and they form partnerships. They form trust, you get to know [the confidential witness], you get to know Rashan [Michel] a lot and like Rashan can get you suits and stuff… You’ll start looking like an NBA ball player, that’s what you are.”

That is not the only admission of wrongdoing that prosecutors claim to have recorded from the defendants, through wiretaps and confidential witnesses.

Another complaint quotes a sports-management employee named Christian Dawkins as telling another undercover witness to keep money funneled to family members of student-athlete’s family members off the books.

“Obviously, we have to put funding out, and obviously some of it can’t be completely accounted for on paper because some of it is, whatever you want to call it, illegal,” Dawkins said, according to the complaint.

Manhattan’s current top federal prosecutor told reporters that he agreed with that opinion.

“He was right,” Kim said. “That is what we call it: illegal.”

Kim’s announcement of a high-profile crackdown against a powerful institution recalls the  anti-corruption efforts of his predecessor Preet Bharara, who announced his “Albany on Trial” crusade against top New York legislators from the same podium.

Ironically, the NCAA case was unveiled just as the Second Circuit overturned one of Bharara’s signature cases, vacating the convictions of former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim speaks to reporters on Sept. 26, 2017, about three criminal complaints filed that morning, accusing 10 coaches, managers, financial advisers and sportswear executives of corrupting college basketball. (ADAM KLASFELD, CNS)

Expressing confidence that his team would be able to convict Skelos again on retrial, Kim noted that the case against the NCAA has been two years in the making. He also said that the NCAA did not know about the “covert” probe.

While Bharara once told reporters he hoped his political-corruption cases would inspire legislative reform, Kim said that he had no desire to regulate college basketball.

“We speak through our charges, and I think these charges speak pretty loudly,” he told Courthouse News.

FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney, from the bureau’s New York field office, said that his team remains focused on clamping down on “play-to-play” culture in the sport.

“Today’s arrests should serve as a warning to others choosing to conduct business this way in the world of college athletics: We have your playbook,” he said.

Dawkins is expected to be presented this afternoon with two of his co-defendants: Munish Sood, a 45-year-old financial adviser from New Jersey, and Jonathan Brad Augustine, a 32-year-old program director of a Florida-based high school basketball team.

Another major player in the court papers is Jim Gatto, the 47-year-old director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas.

Gatto is described in a 29-page complaint as working with three other men to “funnel” $100,000 from an unnamed company to the family of an unidentified high school student.

Evans, the Oklahoma State coach, said it was necessary to use his influence over the youngsters early in their college careers because many of them are “one and done,” meaning they play one or two years of college ball before joining the NBA, according to court papers.

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