NEW YORK — Four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern California were among those arrested on federal corruption charges Tuesday after they were caught taking thousands of dollars in bribes to steer NBA-destined college stars toward certain sports agents and financial advisers, authorities said.
The coaches named in court documents are Auburn’s Chuck Person, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland. It was not immediately clear who would represent them at initial court appearances.
Also charged in Manhattan federal court were managers, financial advisers and representatives of a major international sportswear company.
“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,” 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.”
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 statement said.
NCAA spokeswoman Gail Dent, when asked for a statement from the NCAA, said, “Nothing on this end. We’ll let you know if that changes.”
Other people named in the documents include:
James Gatto, director of global sports marketing at Adidas;
Merl Code, who recently left Nike for Adidas;
Christian Dawkins, an NBA agent who was fired in May from ASM Sports for charging approximately $42,000 in Uber charges on a player’s credit card;
Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of The League Initiative and program director of the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program;
Munish Sood, a financial adviser;
Rashan Michel, a former NBA official who founded Thompson Bespoke Clothing, a custom clothier for athletes.
The FBI complaint against Gatto and others also includes a reference to a “public research university located in Kentucky,” and University of Louisville interim president Gregory Postel confirmed in a statement it is the school mentioned.
“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. UofL 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, which is identified as “University-6″ in the complaint, 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.
In a sworn statement from FBI agent John Vourderis, he wrote: “I have learned that in or around May of 2017, at the request of at least once coach from University-6, Dawkins, James Gatto, a/k/a “Jim,” Merl Code, Munish Sood, the defendants, and other agreed to funnel $100,000 (payable in four installments) from Company-1 to the family of Player-10. Shortly after the agreement with the family of Player-10 was reached in late May or early June, Player-10 publicly committed to University-6.”
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.”
Since 2015, the FBI has been investigating the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes in the NCAA, federal authorities said.
They said the probe has revealed numerous instances in which bribes were paid by athlete advisers, such as financial advisers and associate coaches, to other coaches to exert influence over student-athletes so the athletes would use the services of those paying the bribes.
In criminal complaints, investigators said coaches can provide access for the student-athletes to sports agents, financial advisers, business managers and others.
“Moreover, 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,” the papers said.
Court documents state that Gatto, Code, Dawkins, Augustine and Sood allegedly made bribes to at least three high school players and/or their families. One situation involved $100,000 to commit to play at an Adidas-sponsored school. The second involved payments to commit to a certain school and then retain Dawkins’ services. The third involved as much as $150,000 to attend an Adidas-sponsored school, sign with Dawkins and also sign with Adidas.
Documents also state that Michel offered Person $50,000 in bribe payments “in exchange for using his official position at University-1 to steer student-athletes on University-1’s NCAA Division I men’s basketball team to retain the services of CW-1 and Michel.”
According to court documents, Evans, Richardson and Bland all allegedly received benefits from Dawkins and Sood to influence student-athletes to use their services.
In a statement Tuesday, Adidas said it was unaware whether Gatto was allegedly arranging to pay high school players. “Today, we became aware that federal investigators arrested an adidas employee,” the company said. “We are learning more about the situation. We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.”
Person, 53, is the associate head coach at Auburn; he joined the staff in April 2014. Person averaged 18.3 points per game in four seasons at Auburn and was the NBA Rookie of the Year for the Indiana Pacers in 1987. He played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons.
Evans joined the Oklahoma State staff last season and was promoted to associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for the upcoming season. He coached previously at South Carolina and Kansas State. He averaged 8.5 points as a senior for Drake in 2000-01.
“We were surprised to learn this morning of potential actions against one of our assistant basketball coaches by federal officials,” read a statement from Oklahoma State. “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.”
Richardson joined the staff at Arizona in the spring of 2009. He played collegiately at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
Bland, an associated head coach, joined the USC staff in 2013-14. He played for Syracuse and San Diego State.
“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,” USC athletic director Lynn Swann said in a Tuesday statement. “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.”
Information from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, Mark Schlabach and The Associated Press was used in this report.