US alleges bribery, kickbacks at top NCAA basketball programs
U.S. authorities on Tuesday unveiled fraud charges against 10 people, including four coaches and an Adidas AG executive, associated with some of the country’s premier college basketball programs following a multi-year corruption probe.
Prosecutors said they uncovered many instances in which apparel executives, financial advisers and others bribed assistant college coaches to steer elite players to them, with some money going to athletes’ families.
Bribes also went to star high school players to win their commitments to play for particular schools, prosecutors said.
The charges include bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy, and arose from a probe that began in 2015 of “the criminal influence of money” on basketball governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, prosecutors said.
Perhaps the best-known defendant charged is Chuck Person, a former National Basketball Association star who is now an associate head coach at Auburn University, his alma mater.
The other coaches charged are Anthony “Tony” Bland, from the University of Southern California; Lamont Evans, from Oklahoma State University; and Emanuel “Book” Richardson, from the University of Arizona.
Among the other defendants are James Gatto, director for global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas and Rashan Michel, founder and operator of a clothing company in Atlanta.
A money manager, Munish Sood, was also charged, as was a onetime sports agent, Christian Dawkins.
Representatives of the universities and the NCAA, which regulates college basketball, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Adidas said in an email that one of its employees had been arrested. “We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more,” it said.
Sood’s firm was not named in court papers. A spokeswoman for a firm matching its description had no immediate comment.
Contact information for lawyers for the other defendants could not immediately be located.
Person was a two-time All-American at Auburn and became its all-time scoring leader. He later played for the Indiana Pacers and other teams in a 13-year NBA career.
Prosecutors said Person accepted $91,500 of bribes over 10 months to steer Auburn basketball players he thought capable of joining the NBA to buy suits from Michel and hire an unnamed cooperating witness to provide financial services. They said he kicked back $18,500 to the families of two of the players.
Person allegedly told a current Auburn player at a secretly recorded December 2016 meeting at a Manhattan hotel that he knew some help he was providing was “a violation … of rules, but this is how the NBA players get it done, they get early relationships, and they form partnerships, they form trust.”
In a separate complaint, prosecutors said Gatto and others funneled $100,000 from Adidas, identified as “Company-1,” to a high school basketball player’s family to secure his commitment to play at a Kentucky university sponsored by Adidas.
Prosecutors also said the player agreed to sign a contract with Adidas upon turning professional.
The university is not named, but its description matches that of the University of Louisville. The school did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan was holding a news conference to discuss the charges.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Dan Grebler)