The arrest of four prominent college basketball assistants and six other high profile financial advisors and shoe apparel executives by the FBI for federal corruption charges after a three-year investigation by attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York looks to be only the beginning of what has the potential to be the widest ranging recruiting scandal in the history of the sport and could lead to several major head coaches losing their jobs if they were aware of this when the smoke clears.
Rick Pitino is one coach who can’t be sleeping well these days.
Pitino—a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame– has two national championships at Kentucky and Louisville, taken seven teams from three schools to the NCAA Final Four and won over 700 games. But he and AD Tom Jurich are out at the University of Louisville after FBI alleged in a criminal complaint that coaches with the program had participated in a scheme to pay athletes. According to his attorney Steve Pence, Pitino was placed on administrative leave and has been “effectively fired.” In the end, one of the best college basketball coaches ever was involved in too many personal and professional scandals to survive.
In 2010, he testified at extortion trial of Karen Sypher, who went to prison for attempting to get money and gifts from Pitino in exchange for silence.
In 2015, the NCAA launched an investigation into a pay-for-sex scandal organized by former Louisville assistant Andre McGee with strippers partying in a room with the players and result resulted in the school receiving a four-year probation and could wind up with the Cardinals vacating the 2013 national championship. Pitino was suspended for seven games, five of them ACC games and the school was forced to impose a 2016 NCAA tournament ban.
Now, documents from the investigation cite an arrangement between an unnamed Louisville staff member and the since arrested Jim Gatto, the head of global marketing for Adidas, to pay the family of a recruit—who has since been identified as McDonald’s All America Brian Bowden– $100,000 to commit to the university, which has ties with that shoe company, this summer.
Pitino claimed in June he received a call out of the blue from an AAU coach who wanted to send Bowen to Louisville and signed after taking an unofficial visit if which the coach and player paid for overnight housing and meals.
Pitino was not named in any of the violations. And he claims to be in complete shock that Louisville is involved in a federal investigation. “If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operation to commit a fraud on the universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held responsible.’’
But his words didn’t resonate this time.
Unlike the NCAA, which lacked subpoena power, the FBI has more ability to drop the hammer on what it considers criminal activities. The U.S. Department of Justice has a cooperating witness in Marty Blazer, a former financial advisor who was accused of swindling five clients of $2.3 million and as part of a plea deal agreed to plead guilty to security fraud.
The FBI also used an undercover informant and wiretapping to obtain its treasure trove of information.
So far, the investigation has resulted in charges leveled against four prominent assistant coaches– Chuck Person of Arizona, Emanuel Richardson, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State and Tony Bland of USC who are each charged with bribery conspiracy, honest service fraud and Travel Act conspiracy who are accused of being paid tens of thousands of dollars to steer NBA bound players to sports agents, financial advisers and apparel companies and could face a maximum to 80 years in prison if convicted.
Richardson, who has been on Sean Miller’s staff since 2009, allegedly accepted brides from runner Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Muhish Sood for steering Arizona players to work with them as professionals. Dawkins, then an agent, was often seen at AU practices, which is an NCAA violation. He was arrested on fraud and corruption charges.
Associate head coach Chuck Person allegedly agreed to take $50,000 in bribes from Rashan Michael to push prominent college athletes to work with him as owner of an Atlanta clothing company.
USC assistant Tony Bland allegedly took $13,000 in bribes from Dawkins and /Sood. He also allegedly had Dawkins and Sood pay $9,000 to the families of two athletes at USC.
Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans allegedly accepted $22,-000 in bribes to steer athletes at South Carolina—his previous employer—and Oklahoma State to become client of Dawkins and Sood. He also allegedly had Dawkins and Sood pay $9,000 to the families of two athletes at South Carolina.
Three—Evans Richards and Person– has been suspended from their jobs. Bland has been put on administrative leave.
A second set of allegations claims Gatto funneled six figure payments to three players for their commitment to colleges with ties to the shoe company. Miami also is alleged to have had an assistant coach work with Gatto to arrange a payment of $150,000 to a potential 2018 recruit because they were concerned he would take a bribe for just as much from a rival school and rival school company. Gatto has been working for Adidas for 23 years.
Five other managers and sports apparel executives were also involved, including Merl Cod, an Adidas employee associated with high school and college programs who once worked as director of yo8uth basketball for Nike; Jonathan Brad Augustine, a program director for an Adidas sponsored AAU team in Florida; Dawkins; Sood and Michel.
The FBI also used an undercover informant and wiretapping to obtain its information. Person was recorded speaking to players and an agent who was wearing an FBI wire. The former NBA player lied to one family, telling them an adviser he was pushing had done work for him and Charles Barkley, adamantly saying he never took money from him—despite receiving an envelope containing $15,000 before the meeting.
Dawkins told coaches involved that: “If we take care of everybody. We control everything. You can make millions off one kid.’’ He also told sportswear manufacturers on tape that they could be “running college basketball’’ if they were willing to fund bribes to players and coaches.
This is an open investigation. It’s about time someone with legal clout has taken steps to clean up a messy business.