Ten people connected with college basketball, including four Division I assistant coaches and Adidas director of global marketing James Gatto, face federal criminal charges of bribery, fraud and corruption, prosecutors announced in New York City on Tuesday as a result of an ongoing FBI investigation into “the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes” in the high-stakes recruiting war.
Although the University of Miami is not named directly in the 100-page indictment, and none of its coaches have been charged, it appears to be one of the schools implicated in the pay-for-play scandal, identified in the documents as “University-7.”
In the report, it says from July to September 2017, Gatto (“aka Jim”) was scheming with four associates to funnel payments totaling $150,000 “at the request of at least one coach” to a “top” Class of 2018 high school recruit labeled “Player12” to attend “a private research university located in Florida. With approximately 16,000 students and over 2,600 faculty members, it is one of the state’s largest universities. University-7 fields approximately 15 varsity sports teams in NCAA Division I competition, including men’s basketball.”
That description fits UM, and the Hurricanes athletic program signed a 12-year partnership with Adidas in 2015.
It says Gatto, “in coordination with” at least one coach at the implicated school, would funnel payments to “Player-12” in order to get that player’s commitment to play at “University-7” and then to help “ensure” that player would sign with Adidas, NBA agent Christian Dawkins, and financial advisor Munish Sood, who are also facing charges.
UM Director of Athletics Blake James responded in a statement: “The University of Miami is aware of the indictments handed down today by the Department of Justice involving several men’s college basketball programs, coaches, financial advisors, agents and apparel executives. As we are just learning the details, we cannot comment on the actions taken today by federal authorities. However, if requested, we will cooperate in any legal or NCAA review of the matter.”
Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga did not return calls. His attorney, Stuart Grossman, said: “Coach L is unfamiliar with this matter and had zero involvement in any allegations of any impropriety. He will continue to lead this great program.”
The four assistant coaches arrested in the probe were Auburn’s Chuck Person (the former NBA player), Arizona’s Emanuel Richardson, USC’s Tony Bland and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans.
Also charged were Merl Code of Adidas, Jonathan Brad Augustine of the Adidas-sponsored AAU team 1 Family, and Rashan Michel, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, whose company sells high-end custom suits to many NBA and NFL players.
Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the investigation exposed “the dark underbelly” of college basketball, and showed that the implicated coaches, agents and apparel company representatives were “circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes.”
The NCAA was unaware of the covert investigation until Tuesday’s announcement, Kim said.
According to the report, the FBI wiretapped a call “on or about Aug. 9” between Dawkins and Code in which they discuss the payments to the recruit, and Dawkins told Code that, according to Augustine, the coach at “University-7” (referred to as “Coach 3”) “knows everything” and had requested they “start the process” of payments.
They spoke again on Aug. 11, and in that call, there was more discussion of the unnamed coach being aware that payments were being promised to ensure the highly touted recruit didn’t sign with a rival school sponsored by a rival apparel company that “allegedly had sponsored the athlete a large sum of money.”
The high school player in question is not named, but five-star forward Nassir Little of Orange Park plays for Augustine’s AAU team and in August narrowed his choices to Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia Tech, and Miami. He was scheduled to visit UM on Sept. 16, but the trip was postponed because of Hurricane Irma, as was a Sept. 8 visit by another five-star player, guard Immanuel Quickley, who last week announced he had chosen Kentucky over Kansas and UM.
When Scout.com interviewed Little in late August, he said he was considering UM because: “I’m from Florida. I love the campus. ... It has perfect weather. I feel like they have a high chance for me to come in and play right away. Me and coach (Larrañaga) and (assistant) coach (Jamal) Brunt, we have a really good relationship and we click with each other.”
The University of Louisville also appears to be implicated, as “University-6,” in a similar recruiting bribe involving a $100,000 payment to the family of a high school basketball player to sign with an unnamed public research university in Kentucky that points to Louisville.
Also, according to the complaint, between September 2016 and September 2017 Person received more than $90,000 from an undercover FBI witness acting as an agent in exchange for agreeing to use his position as coach to steer Auburn basketball players to hire that agent and buy expensive clothing from Michel.
Kim said in the press conference Tuesday about the apparent UM and Louisville cases: “These defendants conspired to secretly funnel six-figure payments to the families of high school players. In exchange, the players would agree to commit to playing basketball at colleges that were sponsored by that company and eventually retain the advisory services of Dawkins and Sood. And to being sponsored by that sportswear company.
“Recognizing the illicit nature of these payments, Gatto and Code allegedly took steps to hide them. Instead of paying the families directly, they made the payments through Dawkins’ company and Augustine’s amateur basketball team. They also conspired to disguise the payments in the company’s books by using fake invoices and false entries.”
He also said the investigation is not over, and urged anyone with information to come forward.
The UM athletic program was on probation from October 2013 to October 2016 as punishment for lack of institutional control following a scandal involving former booster Nevin Shapiro.