Jury Convicts Basketball Insiders of NCAA Corruption

MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal jury convicted two sports business insiders Wednesday in the second act of the government’s NCAA corruption trial.

Following a two-week trial that dredged the murky depths of deal-making in college basketball, the Manhattan jury found 26-year old aspiring agent Christian Dawkins guilty on one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy. Dawkins’ mentor, Merl Code, was also found guilty today on a single count conspiring to facilitate the bribery scheme.

Former amateur basketball league director Merl Code leaves federal court in New York on Oct. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Seven men and five women made up the jury, which deliberated for more than 14 hours before delivering their split verdict this afternoon. Apart from their convictions, Dawkins and Code were each acquitted on counts related to honest-services fraud and Travel Act conspiracy.

Immediately following the verdict, Code told reporters that no evidence was shown in the trial that he paid any bribes.

“I did not bribe anybody,” Code said leaving court this afternoon. “There was no emails, no text messages, no phone calls where I bribed anybody at any time.”

The government accused Dawkins and Code of conspiring to arrange two bribe payments totaling $20,000 to former University of Arizona Wildcats assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson, part of a bid to steer players to Dawkins’ sports-management company once they turned pro.

On a wiretapped phone call played during the trial last week, Richardson could be heard telling Dawkins that head Arizona coach Sean Miller was paying former player Deandre Ayton $10,000 per month while attending the university.

Christian Dawkins stands outside federal court Wednesday in New York. Dawkins and and youth basketball coach Merl Code were convicted on a conspiracy count, but acquitted of some other charges. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Dawkins’ counsel subpoenaed testimony from Miller but U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos found the testimony barred as irrelevant. 

Richardson pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, agreeing to forfeit $20,000 as a condition of his plea.

The government also accused Dawkins and Code of arranging $13,000 in bribe payments to former USC associate head coach Tony Bland.

In January, Bland pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery as part of a deal with federal prosecutors. Bland admitted to accepting $4,100 in cash to steer players at the school toward specific business mangers.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Code, a former Adidas consultant with decades of experience on the business side of basketball at the professional, college and amateur levels, imparted his knowledge of which “openly dirty coaches,” and advised an FBI agent undercover as an investor how to talk to them so that they wouldn’t get “spooked.”

Prosecutors said Dawkins paid a $2,500 bribe to then-University of South Carolina assistant Lamont Evans to encourage student-athletes to sign with ASM Sports management, where Dawkins was unlicensed runner at the time. 

Dawkins insisted it wouldn’t make sense from his sports-business perspective to bribe coaches because they don’t have enough influence over players’ business decisions.

Like Richardson, Evans pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and agreed to forfeit $22,000 as a condition of his plea.

Dawkins said the $2,500 was meant to pay expenses for the family of South Carolina basketball player P.J. Dozier, a top NBA prospect at the time. 

Dawkins told jurors that that as an unlicensed runner, he would not have made any money off recruiting Dozier because the senior agents whom the players sign with would receive any commission off the signing.

None of the three assistant coaches who pleaded guilty prior to the trial – Book Richardson, Lamont Evans and Tony Bland – testified during the trial.

During his direct defense testimony last week, Dawkins implicated his former boss, high-profile NBA agent Andy Miller, with industry-wide NCAA recruiting violations.

“Everybody was paying players,” Dawkins said on the stand. “I don’t think anything is wrong with paying players.”

Dawkins and Code already face six-month prison sentences after they were convicted of related charges in an earlier trial. The second trial spanned three weeks, with U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan presiding.

Last month, Dawkins’ attorney Steven Haney began an appeal of the conviction in Kaplan’s trial; the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has set July 11 as a deadline for Dawkins to file his initial brief in his appeal.

The Department of Justice’s case was handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit with Assistant United States Attorneys Robert Boone, Noah Solowiejczyk, and Eli J. Mark in charge of the prosecution.

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