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Feds: Arrests expose ‘dark underbelly’ of college basketball

Christian Dawkins, a business manager, leaves a Manhattan

Christian Dawkins, a business manager, leaves a Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2017 after a hearing on accusations he and another defendant brokered payments to families of high school athletes. Credit: AP / Ben Liebenberg

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Tuesday charged 10 people with fraud in a wide-ranging set of college basketball scandals involving payoffs by apparel companies and agents to coaches and players to steer top talent into chosen schools and lucrative deals.

Three different indictments named as defendants four college basketball coaches, as well as managers, financial advisers, and representatives of sportswear companies. At a Manhattan news conference announcing the charges, acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said the case exposed the “dark underbelly of college basketball.”

Those named include Chuck Person, a former NBA player and college coach, coach and former Syracuse player Anthony Bland, coaches Lamont Evans and Emanuel Richardson, and marketing executive James Gatto. The criminal complaints did not identify by name the universities and companies with whom they are currently affiliated. Person coaches at Auburn University, Bland coaches at USC, Evans has coached at the University of South Carolina and Oklahoma State, and Richardson coaches at Arizona. Gatto is a marketing executive with Adidas.

In a statement, Adidas said the company was aware of the arrest but “unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.”

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the charges were “deeply disturbing” and suggested a “despicable” breach of trust by the coaches.

Kim said the three criminal complaints against 10 defendants, all arrested Tuesday, outlined two basic schemes. In the first, college coaches allegedly were bribed in exchange for using their influence over college players to pressure and direct those players and their families to retain the service of sports advisers paying the bribes. In the second scheme, Gatto allegedly was at the center of a conspiracy that funneled bribe payments to high school players and their families to secure the players’ commitments to attend schools sponsored by the company.

The complaints said the charges stemmed from an FBI investigation that began in 2015. A key witness who helped investigators was Louis Martin Blazer III, identified in court papers “CW-1” and who ran a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania financial advisory firm. In 2016, Blazer was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of defrauding investors, including professional athletes, of $2.35 million to finance two films without their permission.

Blazer, 47, settled the SEC civil charges in 2016, court records showed, and has agreed to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges and cooperate in the current basketball investigation. Records show that Blazer lived in Clinton, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. His attorney Martin Dietz declined to comment.

One of the complaints said that Person, with the help of Rashan Michel, the owner of a clothing store catering to pro athletes, took $91,000 in bribes from Blazer to influence players headed for the NBA to retain Blazer’s business management company. Person, was a former two-time All American, the complaint stated.

In another complaint, Gatto and four other men were charged with steering bribes to high school athletes to get them to attend one of two unnamed universities sponsored by the company to promote their apparel. The charges said they funneled $150,000 to the family of one high schooler and $100,000 to the family of another as part of the scheme. Christian Dawkins, a business manager, and Munish Sood, a financial adviser, were accused of brokering the payments in return for the athletes retaining their services when they left college and went to the NBA.

The third complaint charged Dawkins and Sood with paying money to coaches Bland, Evans and Richardson to influence players in their selection of agents when they went to the NBA, putting the agents in line for lucrative fees. Evans allegedly received $22,000 in bribes at South Carolina and Oklahoma State.

Richardson allegedly took $20,000 in bribes to steer players to Dawkins and Sood, instead of having them talk to other advisors. Bland allegedly took $13,000 in bribes and facilitated the payment of $9,000 directly to a player’s family. None of the players or families involved in the schemes were charged or named.

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