University of Louisville

Corruption in college basketball: Five things you need to know about the investigation

Louisville coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference last October about the program’s scandal that alleged an assistant hiring strippers to entertain players and recruits.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference last October about the program’s scandal that alleged an assistant hiring strippers to entertain players and recruits. AP

On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced charges of fraud and corruption in college basketball.

As of a result of a “covert” investigation, federal charges have been filed against 10 people with ties to college basketball, including four high-level assistant coaches.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also held a news conference Tuesday to discuss the charges and take questions from the media.

“The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one,” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know, right now, about the investigation:

Who is involved?

The 10 people charged with federal crimes include four assistant coaches: Southern Cal’s Tony Bland, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, Auburn’s Chuck Person and Arizona’s Book Richardson. All four coaches have been arrested and suspended by their schools.

Richardson has the reputation as a top-notch recruiter, and Arizona is an early favorite to be the No. 1 team in college basketball this season, according to several preseason publications and early Top 25 lists.

“College coaches took cash bribes from managers and advisers in exchange for directing players and their families to those bribers,” Kim said.

Evans is also a former assistant coach at South Carolina, which was included as one of the universities in the federal documents. South Carolina has released a statement acknowledging that Evans has been charged with federal crimes in relation to this case.

Jim Gatto, director of global sports marketing at Adidas, has also been arrested. He’s accused of helping facilitate a $100,000 payment to a high school basketball recruit’s family on the condition that the recruit commit to an Adidas-affiliated school. (More on that later.)

Other defendants include Adidas official Merl Code, sports agent Christian Dawkins, clothier Rashan Michel, financial adviser Munish Sood, and Brad Augustine, director of an Adidas-sponsored travel team that features top high school recruits.

“Managers, advisers and those affiliated with (Adidas) worked together to funnel money to families to some of the country’s top high school recruits … for the players’ commitment to play for the schools sponsored by that company,” Kim said.

How did this investigation begin?

Kim — the Acting U.S. Attorney — said Tuesday that a person was charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and became a cooperating witness after telling federal officials that he had, in the past, engaged in the “type of conduct” mentioned in the charges ultimately brought against the individuals mentioned above Tuesday.

“I’m aware of people who are willing to do this,” the witness told federal officials.

That person was then “inserted” into the case, and he is mentioned in the public documents as a witness to the alleged crimes in this case.

Louis Martin “Marty” Blazer III, a former Pittsburgh financial adviser who was accused of stealing $2.35 million from five clients by the Securities and Exchange Commission, was the cooperating witness who helped the FBI in its investigation of the basketball coaches and other defendants, according to U.S. Department of Justice documents obtained by ESPN.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced charges stemming from an FBI investigation into top NCAA basketball programs that also involved a corrupt scheme with a major sportswear company.

What about Louisville?

Louisville is not specifically named in any of the federal documents — and no coaches or officials directly employed by U of L have been charged with any crimes — but the Cardinals’ basketball program is clearly “University-6” in the federal documents.

“University-6” is described in those documents as “a public research university located in Kentucky. With approximately 22,640 students and over 7,000 faculty and staff members, it is one of the state’s largest universities.”

Louisville is the only university that matches that description.

The allegations state that Gatto, Code, Dawkins, Sood and others conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $100,000 to the family of “Player-10” — described as an “All-American high school basketball player” — with the end goal being “Player-10’s” commitment to “University-6.” The payment would also ensure that “Player-10” ultimately retain the services of Dawkins and Sood as representatives upon entering the NBA.

According to the allegations in the federal documents, this plan was devised in May of this year and “Player-10” ultimately announced his commitment to “University-6” on or about June 3.

Pitino2
Rick Pitino walked off the court after Louisville lost to the Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in March. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Five-star basketball recruit Brian Bowen committed to Louisville on June 3.

Bowen — a 6-foot-7 wing from Saginaw, Mich. — became the Cardinals’ highest-ranked commitment in nine years, and Louisville was a late suitor in his recruitment, coming on at the very end after Bowen considered several other top schools for much longer periods of time.

The federal allegations state that the commitment of “Player-10” was described as one that “came out of nowhere” and a “late recruiting coup” for “University-6.”

U of L Coach Rick Pitino commented on Bowen’s commitment a few days later.

“We got lucky on this one,” Pitino said then. “I had an AAU director call me and say, ‘Would you be interested in a basketball player?’ I said ... ‘Yeah, I’d be really interested.’ But (Bowen and his people) had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotels, pay for their meals. So we spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

The federal allegations also detail a case involving “University-6” and another highly touted basketball recruit from the class of 2019.

We will cooperate fully with any law enforcement or NCAA investigation into the matter.

Gregory Postel, U of L interim president

These details involve a meeting between Dawkins and Augustine and a coach from “University-6” that took place in a Las Vegas hotel room. The timeframe described in the documents indicates the meeting happened during the Adidas Summer Championships — a major recruiting event for college coaches — in late July.

Prior to the meeting, the FBI placed video recorders inside of the hotel room.

The federal documents state that Dawkins “laid out the plan to funnel money to the family of Player-11,” who is described as a class of 2019 recruit.

“We’re all working together to get this kid to (University-6),” Dawkins told those assembled, according to the federal documents.

Dawkins also noted that “University-6” was “already on probation with the NCAA,” according to the federal documents, and that “they would have to be particularly careful with how they passed money to Player-11 and his family.”

The coach from “University-6” agreed: “We gotta be very low key,” he said.

After the coach from “University-6” left the room, according to the federal documents, those remaining started discussing the arrangement with the family of “Player-10” and referred to a second coach at “University-6,” implying that he also had knowledge of the payments related to “Player-10.”

Dawkins specifically said that “a rival athletic apparel company” was “coming with a “higher number” and he needed to “get more” to secure the player’s commitment to “University-6,” according to the federal documents.

Dawkins then said that he had spoken to the second coach at “University-6” about the matter and directed that coach to call Gatto.

On Tuesday afternoon, U of L interim president Gregory Postel released a statement related to the case.

“Today, the University of Louisville received notice that it is included in a federal investigation involving criminal activity related to men’s basketball recruiting,” Postel said. “While we are just learning about this information, this is a serious concern that goes to the heart of our athletic department and the university. U of L is committed to ethical behavior and adherence to NCAA rules; any violations will not be tolerated.

“We will cooperate fully with any law enforcement or NCAA investigation into the matter.”

Will this be the end of it?

Not by a long shot.

Federal officials at Tuesday’s news conference made it quite clear that this investigation is not over.

Kim, when asked about the “pervasiveness” of corruption in college basketball, said: “I’m not going to comment beyond what we’ve charged, but there’s a lot there, as you can see. …. The investigation is ongoing.”

The Acting U.S. Attorney said the investigation is now in the open. He described it as “covert” until Tuesday morning and said he didn’t even think the NCAA was aware of the federal investigation until this week. He said federal officials had reached out to the NCAA on Tuesday and will be working with them moving forward.

“We’ll see how pervasive it is,” Kim added.

FBI assistant director in charge Bill Sweeney, in his comments at Tuesday’s news conference, warned others in the basketball world who might have been operating similarly as those already charged.

“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,” Sweeney said. “Our investigation is ongoing. And we are conducting additional interviews, as I speak. We have a lot more work to do, and I encourage those who wish to proactively provide information to contact us.”

The FBI has set up a tip line for this case.

“It’s better for you to call us than for us to be calling you, when we’re ready to charge you,” Kim added later.

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.

Bill Sweeney, FBI assistant director in charge

Should UK fans be worried?

The short answer is no.

As federal officials said Tuesday, the investigation is ongoing — and it seems likely that other college programs will be publicly implicated — but Kentucky does not fit the description of any of the programs mentioned within the federal documents and there is nothing to indicate any wrongdoing whatsoever on UK’s part.

Again, the assistant coaches who were arrested in relation to this case this week are from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern Cal, and Evans is being investigated for alleged actions during his time at South Carolina, as well as his current employer, Oklahoma State.

Louisville has not been directly implicated, but U of L is clearly “University-6” in the federal documents, and U of L’s interim president released the statement acknowledging the Cardinals’ program is included in the investigation.

A “University-7” is also mentioned in the federal documents, and that institution fits the description of Miami, another Adidas-sponsored program.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments