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Guilty Verdicts in College Basketball Corruption Trial in New York; KU Considers Implications

KU head basketball coach Bill Self, as seen on the big screen at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. (Photo by Greg Echlin)

Guilty on all counts: That’s the verdict announced today (WED) in the college basketball corruption trial of three men in New York. The guilty verdict may have implications for the basketball program at the University of Kansas. KPR's Greg Echlin reports.


(AP version)

3 College Basketball Recruiting Insiders Convicted in NYC
By TOM HAYS and LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — An Adidas executive and two other insiders from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting were convicted today (WED) in a corruption case that prosecutors said exposed the underbelly of the sport. A federal jury in Manhattan found former Adidas executive James Gatto, business manager Christian Dawkins and amateur league director Merl Code guilty of fraud charges. The trial centered on whether the men's admitted efforts to channel secret payments to the families of top recruits luring them to major basketball programs sponsored by Adidas was criminal. At stake was a fortune in revenue for the basketball programs and potential endorsement deals for the players if they went pro.

Evidence included text messages between the defendants and coaches from top-tier coaches like Bob Self of Kansas and Rick Pitino of Louisville and testimony from the father of prized recruit Brian Bowen Jr. describing how a Louisville assistant handed him an envelope stuffed with cash.

Prosecutors claimed the schools were in the dark about the payment schemes, including $100,000 promised to Bowen's family, that are outlawed by the NCAA. They accused the defendants of defrauding universities by tricking them into passing out scholarships to players who should have been ineligible.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Noah Solowiejczyk recounted testimony from cooperators and wiretap evidence about how the defendants took steps to create false invoices to Adidas, route funds through various bank accounts and convert it to cash for the families.

The behavior "tells you an awful lot about the defendants," the prosecutor said. "It tells you that what they were doing was wrong."

The defendants didn't deny they sought to make the payments. But they argued that was how the recruitment game was played by Adidas, Nike and other sportswear companies - and that talent-hungry coaching staffs knew it.

A lawyer for defendant Dawkins, who was instrumental in steering Bowen to Louisville, claimed his client thought he was helping the program succeed to the benefit of everyone involved.
"What proof did the government present that Louisville suffered any harm?" attorney Steven Haney said in closing arguments. In Dawkins' mind, "he thought what he was doing was OK."

Defense attorneys sought to convince the jury the text messages and phone records showing Self and Patinto were in touch with the recruitment middlemen aligned with Adidas proved they had to be aware of the payments. They said further proof the schools weren't blind to the schemes was testimony by Brian Bowen Sr. claiming he received $1,300 from Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson and other testimony by a cooperator, former Adidas consultant, Thomas "T.J." Gassnola, that he delivered $40,000 to North Carolina State assistant coach Orlando Early intended for the family of highly-touted point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

In the texts last year, Gassnola told Self he was in the touch with the guardian of player Silvio De Sousa, who prosecutors say was among recruits whose families were offered secret payments.
Self responded: "We good," according to an exhibit of the communication.

Gassnola said: "Always. That was light work."

Another exhibit showed how Dawkins texted Pitino as Bowen was nearing a decision about where he would play, asking, "Would you have any interest in Brian Bowen or are you done with recruiting?"

Pitino responded: "We would love to have him."

The exhibit showed Gatto also reached out to Pitino by text asking if they could speak on the phone, and records show there was a conversation afterward.

But there were no communications in which the coaches mentioned money. The coaches and the schools have either denied any wrongdoing or not commented on the case.

Self remains at Kansas, where De Sousa is still on the team. Kansas announced this week De Sousa is being held off the court until information that came out of the trial was reviewed. But at Louisville, the scandal resulted in the firing of Pitino and forced Bowen to leave the university and pursue a professional career.

The trial's most emotional moment came when a prosecutor first began questioning the elder Bowen about his son, who goes by the nickname "Tugs."

"Is Tugs in college?" asked prosecutor Edward Diskant.

"No, he's not," Bowen responded.

When the prosecutor asked why not, Bowen dropped his head into his hands and wept.

-30-

(This story has been corrected to show the business manager is Christian Dawkins, not Christopher Dawkins, and the amateur league director is Merl Code, not Merle Code.)

====================

(-Related-)

Jayhawks coach Self denies ever offering improper benefits
By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas basketball coach Bill Self emphatically denied Wednesday night that members of his staff ever offered impermissible benefits to prospective players, hours after Jayhawks forward Silvio De Sousa was indefinitely benched amid questions about his relationship with an apparel company.
The case centers on Kansas apparel partner Adidas and its former marketing executive, Jim Gatto, who was convicted in federal court in New York earlier in the day of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Adidas consultant Merl Code and NBA agent runner Christian Dawkins also were convicted in the case. All three of the defendants had been accused of funneling money from Adidas to the families of recruits at Kansas, Louisville and its other sponsored schools — a trial that was closely watched across the sport as some of its biggest names were drawn into the spotlight.
Self learned of the guilty verdicts while attending Big 12 media day in Kansas City. He refrained from comment until Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod and athletic director Jeff Long issued a statement, then spoke at a news conference at Allen Fieldhouse a day before the No. 1 Jayhawks' exhibition opener.
"When recruiting prospective student-athletes, my staff and I have not and do not offer improper inducements to them or their families, nor are we aware of any third party to do so," Self said. "As the leader of the men's basketball program, I take pride in my role to operate with integrity and within the NCAA rules, which is a fundamental responsibility of being a head basketball coach."
Self declined to discuss specifics of the case, saying multiple times he could not comment until all inquiries are concluded. Two federal cases are still pending in the FBI's corruption investigation.
De Sousa graduated from IMG Academy last December, joined the Jayhawks for the spring semester and provided valuable interior depth as the school made a run to the Final Four. He starred in their Big 12 title victory over West Virginia and helped to beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament's regional finals.
Self said during the Jayhawks' local media day two weeks ago that he was planning for De Sousa to play this season, and De Sousa himself declared, "I know I'm going to play."
That was just as Gatto's trial began, though.
During testimony, text messages presented by the defense indicated Self and Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend may have been aware that ex-AAU coach T.J. Gassnola had helped to deliver money to De Sousa's legal guardian, Fenny Falmagne, to pay for online classes and to escape from a pay-for-pay scheme brokered with Maryland. De Sousa committed to the Jayhawks a few days after the text messages.
Kansas officials do not believe last year's Big 12 title or Final Four will be jeopardized because De Sousa had been declared by the NCAA eligible at the time. But it left his status going forward in limbo, and the Jayhawks erred on the side of caution by withholding him from games.
"From a commonsense standpoint we have had new developments that we were unaware of," Self said. "We know positively that we will work with the NCAA hand-in-hand on his eligibility review."
Girod and Long said in their statement that they were awaiting clearance from the Justice Department before the school begins working with the NCAA to review information presented at trial. Kansas also plans to review the eligibility of all its current athletes.
Meanwhile, Girod said no decision has been made about a long-term contract extension with Adidas. The sides had agreed to the $191 million deal in late 2007 but the contract was never signed.
"We continue to evaluate our options. There is no timetable for a decision," Girod said. "A strong apparel partnership is important and beneficial to all our student-athletes and our institution, and we will take great care in making the right decision for KU."
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he anticipates the NCAA will launch an investigation into the corruption case once the remaining federal trials are complete. But he sidestepped several questions about the Kansas case Wednesday, calling it "premature" to comment on a sensitive situation.
"The conference and the NCAA have intentionally deferred to the federal governing process," Bowlsby said, "and until that process is complete we can't continue down that path."
Bowlsby did acknowledge having conversations with Self and Long earlier this week, but the commissioner said the corruption case was not discussed in any detail.
"I know people at all of those companies that are involved and they operate with integrity in the ways I've encountered them," said Bowlsby, a longtime college administrator. "But clearly there is influence in the system and to the extent we can manage it and control it, we ought to do that. And I think that'll be the step that comes after it, rules that respond to things that have been raised in the court case."
Kansas decided it couldn't wait that long, choosing instead to bench De Sousa indefinitely.
The Jayhawks have plenty of interior depth to pick up his minutes, including a trio of elite transfers highlighted by former Memphis standout Dedric Lawson. Add one of the nation's top recruiting classes to the holdovers from the Final Four team and it's no surprise the Jayhawks were voted No. 1 in the AP's preseason poll this week, and are the runaway choice to win their 15th consecutive Big 12 title.
It's also not surprising there was little interest in using a player in De Sousa who, if later deemed ineligible by the NCAA, could wipe out what promises to be a big year in Lawrence.
"Sometimes it's hard to focus when you have a lot of distractions," Self said. "Now I have to listen to what I tell our players and I need to lock out the noise and focus in on my team to get them as prepared as I can be to have a great season, and I do believe we have a team of great guys of character that are also good basketball players, that have an opportunity if things fall right to have a special season."

AP freelancer Jordan Wolf contributed to this report.

 

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