Four coaches at major college basketball programs and a senior executive at Adidas are among those facing federal bribery, fraud and corruption charges in a probe investigating “the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate basketball governed by the NCAA”, prosecutors in Manhattan announced on Tuesday.
“Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes, managers and financial advisors circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes and employees of one of the world’s largest sportswear companies secretly funneling money to the families of high school recruits,” Joon H Kim, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, said at a news conference in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday. “The picture painted by the chagres brought today is not a pretty one.”
The investigation, which began in 2015 and involved a cooperating witness, has revealed “numerous instances” of bribes “ranging from $13,000 to almost $100,000 each” paid to basketball coaches to exert influence over student-athletes, including steering high-school prospects to particular universities and the retention of college players’ services after they entered the NBA, according to court documents filed Monday.
The coaches, employed in official positions with federally funded universities, were identified in three separate indictments as Chuck Person of Auburn University, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State University, Emanuel “Book” Richardson of the University of Arizona and Tony Bland of the University of Southern California.
Their arrests were executed on Monday night and Tuesday morning, Kim said.
Others arrested in the investigation were managers, financial advisors and representatives of a major international sportswear company. Court filings indicate the sports apparel executive is Jim Gatto, identified as the head of global sports marketing for basketball for “Company-1” in the filings. A LinkedIn profile for Gatto lists him as working for Adidas in that role.
The German sportswear company said in a statement: “Today, we became aware that federal investigators arrested an Adidas employee. We are learning more about the situation. We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.”
Shares of Adidas fell more than 2% on the German stock exchange as news of the investigation spread on Tuesday.
Investigators allege the four coaches accepted cash bribes from managers and advisers in exchange for a direct pipeline of communication between the student athletes and sports agents, business managers and financial advisers.
“All of them had the trust of the young players they coached and recruited, young men who looked up to them and believed the coaches had their best interests at heart,” Kim said, adding that Person, an associate coach at Auburn, had said of his ability to deliver a player on his roster: “He listens to one person. That is me.”
Bland, who is alleged to have met with former sports agent Christian Dawkins and an undercover FBI agent on 29 July in a Las Vegas hotel room where an envelope containing $13,000 changed hands, was said to have made similar boasts over his influence: “I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”
“Many such coaches have enormous influence over the student-athletes who play for them, in particular with respect to guiding those student-athletes through the process of selecting agents and other advisers when they prepare to leave college and enter the NBA,” the complaints said.
“The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so.”
A separate but related scheme charged managers, advisers and those affiliated with Adidas with working together to funnel money to families of some of the country’s top high school recruits in exchange for the players’ commitments to play for certain schools sponsored by the company.
Gatto, identified in the complaint as a basketball marketing executive at a global athletic company, is alleged to have facilitated payments of as much as $150,000 to a high school player so that he would attend a university that has an apparel contract with Adidas.
“For the defendants charged today, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March,” Kim said. “Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.”