Key Witness in NCAA Hoops Trial Details Bribery Plot

MANHATTAN (CN) – During three days of direct examination this week, the government’s key witness in the NCAA basketball bribery trial named the colleges, coaches and bribe amounts in an alleged conspiracy of pay off coaches to encourage their players to sign on as clients of a startup sports management agency once the young athletes turned pro.

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

On trial are Christian Dawkins, 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, and former Adidas consultant Merl Code.

The prosecution’s main cooperating witness is Marty Blazer, a former financial adviser and failed movie producer whose botched investments and Ponzi-like scheme to recoup losses led him to plead guilty in September 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.

He faces a maximum sentence of 67 years in prison.

On Tuesday, Blazer’s first day on the stand, he testified that from 2000-2013, he had routinely paid top college student-athletes at Alabama, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Penn State and Pittsburgh. Blazer testified that the payments went to family members and associates of recruits in exchange for choosing him as their financial adviser when the players went pro.

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

The following day, the government played video surveillance footage of a June 6, 2017, meeting aboard a yacht docked off Battery Park in New York, where Blazer accompanied Dawkins and Code as they allegedly hashed out the details of planned payoffs with two undercover FBI agents posing as business partners investing in Dawkins’ sports management company.

The undercover FBI agents, using the false names Jeff D’Angelo and Jill Bailey, advocated for the business model of securing relationships with college coaches through payoffs. They gave Dawkins a bottle of expensive scotch to mark their business agreement.

Prosecutors showed several screenshots of text messages that Blazer identified as the list of college teams and coaches that Dawkins had picked out, including several “superstar” coaches that Dawkins highlighted as the best candidates.

In the surveillance video shown Wednesday, Dawkins spent part of the meeting on the yacht gloating about his relationship with University of Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller.

“Miller likes to know everything that’s going on,” Dawkins said on the video recording. “I can call Sean and have a conversation like, ‘this is what’s going on.’ He’ll talk on the phone about things he shouldn’t talk on the phone about.”

At last Friday’s final pretrial conference, U.S District Judge Edgardo Ramos barred Miller from testifying in the case as irrelevant, along with Louisiana State University coach Will Wade, who had also been subpoenaed by Dawkins’ defense attorney Steven Haney to testify about the influence the coaches exert over players on their teams and how they had relationships with Dawkins without the alleged bribery arrangement.

Blazer’s testimony on Thursday detailed three days of meetings at a hotel suite in Las Vegas in late July 2017 that Dawkins and Code had arranged with college coaches, including ones from the University of Louisville, Arizona State, Creighton, University of Connecticut, Texas A&M, Clemson, Texas Christian University, University of Southern California and Oklahoma State.

On the stand, Blazer said they had also met with Brad Augustine, then a coach of an Orlando grassroots basketball program sponsored by Adidas, who they were hoping to connect with Jordan Fair, a former Louisville assistant coach, to recruit one of Augustine’s athletes who was playing in Serbia at the time.

Blazer said Augustine was paid $11,700.

He also testified that former USC assistant coach Tony Bland was paid $13,000 and noted that Dawkins was particularly interested in securing highly sought-after grassroots player Marvin Bagley through Bland, which he speculated would attract more late first-round NBA draft picks to his agency.

Blazer said Corey Barker at Texas Christian University in Dallas received $6,000 to be kept on a monthly retainer, in part to nurture a relation with his first cousin, Jarred Vanderbilt, who was then playing at Kentucky and projected to be high pick in the upcoming draft. Vanderbilt currently plays for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

Blazer also said former Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans was paid $4,500.

Another secretly recorded video played in court Thursday included current Clemson assistant coach Steve Smith talking to Dawkins and the undercover agent in July 2017 about the recruitment and potential payments to the family of Zion Williamson, then a grassroots player who has since become a social media sensation and star player for Duke University and is widely anticipated to be first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft in June.

Code said on the recording that he had nurtured a connection with Williamson’s aunt as a fellow South Carolinian to keep tabs on the otherwise insulated hot prospect and his family.

“Duke is gonna have their resources. UNC is UNC. Kentucky is gonna have their resources,” Code said on the video wiretap.

When pressed by prosecutors what he thought Code meant by that remark, Blazer explained, “Duke, UNC and Kentucky will have people in place to pay whatever’s necessary for Zion Williamson.”

“Whatever Zion Williamson’s family needed, we would be able to step in and [help with money] if it was close,” Blazer testified.

Despite the possible connections to Williamson, Blazer testified that Code and Dawkins determined that Clemson’s coach was not worth making any payments to at the time.

Blazer said that Dawkins and Code’s meetings with University of Connecticut’s Raphael Chillious, Texas A&M’s former assistant Amir Abdur-Rahim, and Arizona State University’s Anthony Coleman also did not result in a plan to pay those coaches retainers for their influence on recruits at the time.

Code and Dawkins’ trial is expected to last two weeks. The two were already convicted last October in the government’s first NCAA hoops scandal trial.

The defense attorneys will pick up cross-examination of Blazer on Friday morning.

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