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For decades, many in college basketball believed there was widespread corruption, with influential shoe companies using cash incentives to direct players to certain schools — confident that the bribery would pay off years later when those players became professionals and signed lucrative endorsements.
Now, the Department of Justice has handed down indictments that appear to confirm those suspicions and threatens to expose even more black market dealings.
On Tuesday, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, in conjunction with the FBI, issued a warning shot to college basketball coaches across the country after news broke that 10 men were indicted in a major scandal involving fraud, bribery, money laundering and corruption.
The list includes four prominent assistant coaches at Power Five schools and a high-level executive at Adidas.
"The bribed coaches showed little regard for the players' well-being," said Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. "They ignored red flags, seeing only the green of the cash bribes."
More than 100 pages of filings detail the different ways cash allegedly exchanged hands from a major athletic apparel company to top-level recruits, with financial planners and agents acting as middlemen. The money, according to the filing, was given to recruits and their families with the understanding that those recruits would attend specific schools.
Four assistant coaches — Auburn's Chuck Person, Southern California's Tony Bland, Arizona's Emanuel "Book" Richardson and Oklahoma State's Lamont Evans — have been accused of taking bribes in exchange for pushing players to sign with particular agents when those players ultimately turned pro and needed representation. The bribes range from $15,000 to $100,000.
Kim said at a news conference in New York the investigation is ongoing. He added that reading the filing "you will find yourself in the dark underbelly of college athletics."
William Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI's N.Y. office, said the charges levied against the power brokers in college basketball, "contribute to a 'pay-for-play' culture that has no place in college basketball. Today's arrests serve as a warning to others choosing to conduct business this way in the world of college athletics: We have your playbook."
The covert investigation — which Kim says even the NCAA was unaware of until Tuesday morning — started in 2015, according to court documents.
In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, NCAA President Mark Emmert called the allegations "deeply disturbing."
"Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust," Emmert said, adding that the NCAA would support the ongoing criminal investigation.
The details of the federal filings are staggering.
The U.S. attorney's office flipped a financial adviser facing fraud charges and then placed two undercover agents who posed as associates. Wiretaps and videos followed from there.
The documents detail alleged handshake deals and agreements like the one between James Gatto, director of global sports marketing at Adidas; Munish Sood, a financial planner; and agent Christian Dawkins.
The three "conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $100,000" to assist one or more coaches at a university and to further ensure that the player ultimately retained the services of Dawkins and Sood and signed with a company upon entering the NBA, according to the documents.
Kim declined to name specific companies, schools, athletes or coaches referenced in the documents. Kim also said there are "no allegations of administrators participating in the bribery" at either schools or athletic apparel companies.
Louisville confirmed Tuesday it is one of the schools under investigation, and the four assistants accused of wrongdoing have been suspended by their respective schools.
It's clear from the documents that handlers wanted to remain as under-the-radar as possible.
Noting that a university was already on probation with the NCAA, Dawkins indicated that they would have be particularly careful with how they passed money to a player and his family. The coach agreed, stating, 'We gotta be very low key,' according to the documents.
The others named in the court documents are Merl Code, who recently left Nike for Adidas; Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of The League Initiative and program director of the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program; and Rashan Michel, a former NBA official who founded Thompson Bespoke Clothing line. Dawkins recently was fired from ASM Sports for allegedly charging approximately $42,000 in Uber charges on a player's credit card.
Kim described the middlemen and financial advisers who preyed on talented young athletes as "circling blue chip prospects like coyotes."
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