September 26, 2017, 6:44 pm
Four assistant college basketball coaches were among those arrested on federal corruption charges Tuesday after they were caught taking bribes to steer NBA-destined players toward certain sports agents and financial advisers, authorities said.
Auburn assistant Chuck Person, Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, Arizona assistant Emanuel Richardson and USC assistant Tony Bland were named in court documents on Tuesday.
James Gatto, the director of global sports marketing at Adidas, was also targeted in the probe, as well as financial advisers and managers.
"The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one," Joon H. Kim, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Tuesday news conference.
"Coaches at some of the nation's top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes. Managers and financial advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes. And employees of one of the world's largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to the families of high school recruits.
"For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March. 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."
Court papers show the FBI has been investigating the criminal influence of money on charges and student athletes affiliated with the NCAA since 2015.
NCAA president Mark Emmert was troubled by the corruption charges.
"The nature of the charges brought by the federal government are deeply disturbing," Emmert said in a statement. "We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior. 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. We learned of these charges this morning and of course will support the ongoing criminal federal investigation."
Auburn said in a statement that Person is suspended without pay effective immediately.
"This morning's news is shocking. ... We are committed to playing by the rules, and that's what we expect from our coaches," the university's statement said.
Oklahoma State released the following statement on Tuesday.
"We were surprised to learn this morning of potential actions against one of our assistant basketball coaches by federal officials," the statement read. "We are reviewing and investigating the allegations. We are cooperating fully with officials.
"Let it be clear we take very seriously the high standards of conduct expected in our athletic department. We will not tolerate any deviation from those standards."
The University of Arizona also released a statement and declared Richardson immediately suspended and relieved of his duties. The school also postponed its local media day scheduled for Wednesday.
"We were made aware of the Department of Justice's investigation this morning and we are cooperating fully with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office," the statement read.
"... We were appalled to learn of the allegations as they do not reflect the standards we hold ourselves to and require from our colleagues. The University of Arizona has a strong culture of compliance and the expectation is we follow the rules."
Bland was placed on administrative leave by USC, and athletic director Lynn Swann released the following statement on behalf of his school.
"We were shocked to learn this morning through news reports about the FBI investigation and arrests related to NCAA basketball programs, including the arrest of USC assistant coach Tony Bland," the statement read.
"USC Athletics maintains the highest standards in athletic compliance across all of our programs and does not tolerate misconduct in any way. We will fully cooperate with the investigation and will assist authorities as needed, and if these allegations are true, we will take the needed action."
Later Tuesday, USC vice president for compliance Mike Blanton said the university hired former FBI director Louis J. Freeh to assist its internal investigation.
The sealed FBI complaint against Gatto and others also includes a reference to a "public research university located in Kentucky," with University of Louisville interim president Gregory Postel confirming in a statement it is the school mentioned.
The complaint details that the unnamed school -- identified as "University-6" -- has an enrollment of approximately 22,640, which matches that of Louisville during the 2016-17 academic year. It also states that the school offers approximately 21 varsity sports teams, which is the same offered by the Cardinals, according to the athletics department's website.
"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 in the statement. "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."
The allegations against the unnamed school in Kentucky include payments of $100,000 from a sports apparel company to the family of an unnamed player, identified as "Player 10," to ensure him signing with the school.
The indictment also says that prior to paying Player-10's family, the defendants "first needed time to generate a sham purchase order and invoice ostensibly to justify using Company-1 funds since they could not lawfully pay the family of Player-10 directly and risk that such prohibited payments be revealed."
Gatto is accused of helping funnel approximately $100,000 to the family of an "All-American high school basketball player" to secure the prospect's commitment to a school Adidas sponsors. According to documents, the prospect committed in June. The only "All-American high school basketball player" who committed to a school Adidas sponsors in June is Brian Bowen, who is currently enrolled at Louisville.
"We got lucky on this one," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said of the commitment in June. "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."
A number of powerhouse programs, including Arizona, Oregon, Michigan State and Creighton, were among the finalists considered by the 6-foot-7 Bowen.
"I don't know anything about that," Bowen's mother, Carrie Malecke, told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Tuesday. "I don't know anything about that. I'm not aware of anything like that. Not me. I had no idea."
Pitino will be suspended for the first five Atlantic Coast Conference games in the 2017-18 season for failing to monitor his men's basketball program in the wake of a sex scandal, the Division I Committee on Infractions announced on June 15.
The Cardinals also will be on probation for four years, have scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions. Louisville will also forfeit any money received through conference revenue sharing from the 2012-15 NCAA Tournaments.
Adidas also released a statement on Tuesday.
"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," Adidas said in a statement.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott issued a statement as Richardson and Bland are assistants at institutions in the conference he oversees.
"As Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, I am deeply troubled by the charges filed in federal court today against a number of individuals involved in college basketball, including two assistant coaches employed by member institutions of our conference. Protection of our student-athletes, and of the integrity of competition, is the conference's top priority.
"I have been in contact with the leadership of both universities and it is clear they also take this matter very seriously. We are still learning the facts of this matter, but these allegations, if true, are profoundly upsetting to me. They strike at the heart of the integrity of our programs, and of the game that so many people love and play the right way."
Person, 53, was a star player at Auburn and led the school to its first three NCAA Tournament appearances (1984-86) before going on to a 14-year NBA career. He was Rookie of the Year with the Indiana Pacers in 1986-87. He returned to Auburn as an assistant coach in 2014.
According to documents, Person received $91,500 in bribery payments to allegedly influence two unnamed Auburn players to certain agents and financial advisors.
Evans joined the Oklahoma State staff last season and was promoted to associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for the upcoming season.
Richardson joined the staff at Arizona in 2009. He played collegiately at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
Bland, who joined the USC staff in 2013-14, played for Syracuse and San Diego State.