Adidas exec, 4 coaches charged in college basketball bribery scheme
NEW YORK — 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 hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to influence star athletes' choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents, even tailors.
Some of the most explosive allegations appeared to involve Louisville, one of college basketball's powerhouses, which already is on NCAA probation over a sex scandal.
Federal prosecutors said at least three top high school recruits were promised payments of as much as $150,000 — using money supplied by Adidas — to attend two universities sponsored by the athletic shoe company. Court papers didn't name the schools but contained enough details to identify them as Louisville and Miami.
“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one,” said acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim, adding that the defendants were “circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes” and exploited them to enrich themselves.
Prosecutors said while some of the bribe money went to athletes and their families, some went to coaches to get them to use their influence over their potentially NBA-bound players.
The coaches charged are Chuck Person of Auburn, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, Tony Bland of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State. Person and Evans immediately were suspended. Richardson played and was an assistant coach at Pitt-Johnstown.
Those charged also include 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 financial advisers and managers.
NCAA president Mark Emmert condemned the alleged misconduct, saying in a statement, “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.”
Since 2015, the FBI has been investigating the influence of money on coaches and players in the NCAA. Kim noted a special FBI hotline was set up and asked anyone aware of additional corruption to come forward.
Prosecutors said the coaches took bribes to use their “enormous influence” to steer players toward certain financial advisers and agents.
Most if not all of the 10 defendants were under arrest. Lawyers for Gatto and three of the coaches did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was not clear if Evans had an attorney.
Adidas said it was unaware of any misconduct by an employee and vowed to fully cooperate with authorities.
In one case, Gatto and others are accused of funneling $100,000 to the family of a high school athlete to gain his commitment to play at Louisville and to sign with Adidas once he became a professional. Louisville and Adidas announced a 10-year, $160 million extension of their sponsorship deal over the summer.
The player's name was not released, but details in the criminal complaint make it clear investigators were referring to Brian Bowen. He did not return messages seeking comment, and Louisville declined to make coach Rick Pitino available.
The development comes as Louisville is appealing a four-year NCAA probation over a scandal involving escorts hired for players and recruits. The scandal could cost the school its 2013 national championship.
In court papers Tuesday, the FBI said it recorded a meeting in July where an assistant coach at Louisville was briefed on a plan to funnel thousands of dollars to a potential high school recruit. The participants in the meeting noted that they had to be careful because Louisville was already on probation.
“We gotta be very low key,” said the coach, according to the FBI.
Louisville interim President Gregory Postel confirmed the university was informed it is part of the investigation and said it will cooperate fully.
“Any violations will not be tolerated,” he said.
Miami likewise said it will cooperate, and USC said it appointed former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to conduct an internal investigation.
The investigation began after Martin Blazer, a Pittsburgh-based financial adviser to pro athletes, began cooperating with authorities in 2014. Blazer, accused by Securities and Exchange Commission of taking money from clients without permission, pleaded guilty this month to fraud and other crimes.
He admitted making payments and loans to NCAA athletes as far back as 2000 to get them to hire him.