Adidas exec and 9 others charged in college bribery scheme
NEW YORK (AP) — In one of the biggest crackdowns on the corrupting role of money in college basketball, 10 men — including a top Adidas executive and four assistant coaches — were charged Tuesday with using bribes to influence star athletes’ choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents, financial advisers, even tailors.
Some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes went to athletes and their families, none of whom were identified by name in court papers. Some of the money went to the coaches, to get them to use their considerable sway over their potentially NBA-bound players, federal prosecutors said.
“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one,” acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said. “Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits.”
The coaches were identified as Chuck Person of Auburn University, Emanuel Richardson of the University of Arizona, Tony Bland of the University of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State.
The others charged were James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas; Rashan Michel, a maker of custom suits for some of the NBA’s biggest stars; and various advisers and managers.
Most if not all of the 10 defendants were under arrest. Gatto’s lawyer did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. It was not clear who would represent the coaches.
Since 2015, the FBI has been investigating the influence of money on coaches and players in the NCAA. Kim noted that a special FBI hotline has been set up and invited anyone aware of additional corruption to come forward.
He said those charged “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.”
Prosecutors said the coaches took bribes to use their “enormous influence” steer players toward certain financial advisers and agents.
Adidas said it was unaware of any misconduct by an employee and vowed to fully cooperate with authorities.
Among other things, Gatto and others were accused of bribing high school athletes and their families at least three times this year in exchange for a commitment by the players to play basketball for two Adidas-sponsored universities not identified in court papers.
In one instance, court papers said, Gatto and others funneled $100,000 to the family of a high school athlete to gain his commitment to play at an Adidas-sponsored Division I school and to sign with Adidas once he became a professional. They allegedly paid another high school athlete $150,000 for a similar commitment.
Court papers portrayed the universities as victims of the schemes, saying they paid out financial aid after their coaches falsely assured them they were unaware of any rules violations.
The investigation began after a financial adviser who ran a firm that catered to pro athletes began cooperating in 2014, providing information corroborated by recorded conversations and surveillance, authorities said.
That person, not identified in court papers, pleaded guilty this month to fraud and other crimes.
Person, associate head coach at Auburn, was drafted by the Indian Pacers in 1986 and played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons.
Prosecutors said Person accepted about $91,500 in bribes from the unidentified financial adviser in 2016 to steer clients to him when they reached the NBA. Some payments were alleged to have been arranged by Michel, a former NBA referee turned high-end clothier.
Authorities said Person falsely told the mother of one player that the financial adviser’s clients included NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.
Prosecutors quoted Evans as bragging about his ability to steer young athletes toward prospective agents and advisers, saying, “Every guy I recruit and get is my personal kid.” He also allegedly boasted that he could “bury” any other advisers who tried to sign his players.
Prosecutors said Evans solicited at least $22,000 over the past two years, while Richardson in February was paid $20,000 in bribes, some of which he kept for himself and some of which he gave to at least one high school athlete to get him to play for Arizona.
Between July and September, two advisers arranged at least $13,000 in bribes to Bland, who boasted, “I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys,” prosecutors said.