Jury Deliberations Begin in NCAA Bribery Trial

Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, right, dribbles around Villanova’s Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, left and Villanova’s Collin Gillespie, back, during the second half of a second round men’s college basketball game in the NCAA tournament on March 23, 2019, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Putting the second act of an NCAA bribery trial in jurors’ hands Monday, defense lawyers harangued the government at closing arguments for hinging its case on a convicted informant’s word. 

“This case has no soul,” said Steven Haney, an attorney 26-year-old aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins.

Wrapping up a 75-minute summation this morning, Haney took issue with the testimony from Marty Blazer, the government’s main cooperating witness who spent nearly four full days on the stand last month detailing bribes that he paid to student-athletes so that they would hire him as their financial adviser upon turning pro.

Haney called Blazer “a pathetic excuse of a fraudster who wasn’t even good at stealing.” 

Dawkins and his mentor, former Adidas consultant Merl Code, already stand convicted on related charges but went to trial again this year on allegations that they bribed three former assistant coaches from schools sponsored by Nike — Arizona’s Book Richardson, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans and USC’s Tony Bland — so that their players  would sign with Dawkins.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Boone told the jury in his rebuttal argument this morning that Dawkins lied on the stand last week when he denied paying bribe money to coaches.

“It’s literally on tape,” Boone said.

Christian Dawkins arrives to court in New York on March 5, 2019. Federal prosecutors have recommended multiyear prison sentences for three men convicted of fraud for channeling secret payments to the families of top-tier basketball recruits to influence where the players went to school. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Describing the various FBI wiretaps and surveillance video evidence that show Dawkins and Code either administering the bribe payments or discussing paying bribes to college basketball coaches, Boone implored jurors to review the recordings in their deliberations. 

“It is painfully clear the defendants paid bribes,” he said. 

Boone said Dawkins failed to present any evidence that he was pressured into involvement in the illegal business model by an undercover FBI agent who posed as an investor. In the opening statement for Dawkins, attorney Haney said the agent made his investment in Dawkins’ nascent sports agency, Lloyd Management, contingent on Dawkins paying bribes to coaches.

Rather than showing an unwilling participant, Boone said the evidence showed a crafty one. “He wanted to pay college coaches, he just wanted to be smart about it,” Boone said about Dawkins.

Haney and an attorney for Code each took turns during their respective summations Monday to remind jurors that the government’s witness Blazer is a liar and convicted criminal.

Mark Moore, who represents Code, emphasized that Blazer’s fate after pleading guilty in 2017 has not yet been decided: “His sentence has been deferred until he delivers the performance of his life,” Moore said.

Haney meanwhile called government’s case “exceedingly predictable … and exceedingly underwhelming,”

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)

Dawkins and Code were already convicted of related charges in an earlier trial and face six-month prison sentences.

The second trial spanned three weeks, with U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan presiding.

Code’s father, Ogletree, Deakins attorney Merl F. Code,  was co-counsel for his son in 2018 and attended nearly all of the hearings this year.

Dawkins’ father, Cleveland State assistant coach Lou Dawkins, has also been in the courtroom throughout the trial.

Jury deliberations will resume Tuesday morning.

Blazer faces up to 67 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2017 to felony charges, including two counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission and one count of aggravated identity theft. 

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