U.S. Attorney Damian Williams's Remarks on the Charges Against 70 Current and Former NYCHA Employees
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that CHRISTIAN DAWKINS was sentenced to twelve months and a day in prison, and MERL CODE was sentenced to 3 months in prison, after having been found guilty in May 2019 of engaging in a scheme to bribe multiple NCAA Division I men’s college basketball coaches. The defendants were sentenced in Manhattan federal court by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, who also presided over the jury trial. Both sentences are in addition, and will run consecutive, to sentences previously imposed on both defendants by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan for their roles in a separate scheme to defraud Adidas-sponsored universities by making illicit cash payments to the families of college-bound student-athletes and concealing those payments from the schools.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Christian Dawkins and Merl Code have now been sentenced to prison a second time for their roles in corrupting the world of college basketball. The sentences imposed this week should make crystal clear to other members of the basketball underground exposed during the various prosecutions brought by this Office that bribery is still a crime, even if the recipient is a college basketball coach, and one that will result in term of incarceration.”
According to the allegations contained in the Complaint, Indictment, Superseding Indictment, and evidence presented during the trial in Manhattan federal court:
Overview of the Scheme
DAWKINS and CODE agreed to pay bribes to various NCAA Division I men’s college basketball coaches in exchange for those coaches’ exerting their influence over the student-athletes that they coached in order to retain the services of DAWKINS and a new sports management business (the “Dawkins Company”) that he had recently started.
Prior to founding the Dawkins Company, from in or about 2015 until in or about May 2017, DAWKINS worked for a major sports agency recruiting high school and college basketball players as clients. In connection with his work for the sports agency, DAWKINS paid bribes to Lamont Evans, who at the time was an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina, in order for Evans to exert his official influence over student-athletes he coached to retain the services of the sports agency that employed DAWKINS. DAWKINS subsequently introduced Louis Martin Blazer III, a financial advisor who, unbeknownst to DAWKINS, was cooperating with the Government, and Munish Sood, another financial advisor, to Lamont Evans in order for them to continue paying bribes to him.
In or about May 2017, DAWKINS was terminated from his job at the sports agency and started the Dawkins Company with Munish Sood and another investor who, unbeknownst to DAWKINS, was an undercover law enforcement officer (“UC-1”). In order to recruit future clients, DAWKINS proposed, among other things, paying bribes to coaches at various NCAA Division I universities so that these coaches would steer their student-athletes to retain the services of the Dawkins Company. DAWKINS thereafter proposed paying bribes to Emanuel “Book” Richardson, an assistant coach at the University of Arizona. Soon thereafter, DAWKINS arranged for Richardson to travel to New York City in order to receive a $5,000 cash bribe. Weeks later, Richardson requested an additional $15,000 from DAWKINS, which Richardson said he would use in order to secure the commitment of a top high school basketball player to attend the University of Arizona, who Richardson would then steer to retain the services of DAWKINS and his company. DAWKINS arranged for UC-1 and Munish Sood to pay Richardson an additional $15,000 cash bribe in New Jersey in or about July 2017.
In or about June 2017, DAWKINS introduced Sood, UC-1, and Blazer, among others, to MERL CODE, who at the time was a consultant for Adidas, in order for CODE to work with the Dawkins Company to recruit future clients. During the initial meeting, DAWKINS, CODE, Sood, Blazer and UC-1 discussed, among other things, CODE’s ability to identify and connect the Dawkins Company with corrupt college basketball coaches willing to accept money. At the end of the meeting, CODE received a $5,000 cash payment from UC-1 on behalf of the Dawkins Company.
In or about July 2017, DAWKINS and CODE discussed by telephone, among other things, CODE introducing UC-1 to various men’s college basketball coaches at an upcoming recruiting event in Las Vegas, Nevada, and that CODE would be paid $5,000 for each men’s college basketball coach that he introduced to DAWKINS and UC-1. CODE later sent a text message to DAWKINS containing a list of coaches that CODE had set up meetings with in Las Vegas, Nevada, including the dates and times of each of the meetings, for the purpose of DAWKINS and his company arranging to bribe them. In advance of the meetings, CODE advised UC-1 and DAWKINS that they should tell the coaches they would meet with that they would be available to provide them with money in the future, including with respect to any future financial needs these coaches had in connection with recruiting.
In Las Vegas, several coaches received cash bribes during their meetings with DAWKINS, and other coaches DAWKINS agreed to pay later as needed, in exchange for them using their influence to steer players to the Dawkins Company. Anthony Bland, an assistant coach at the University of Southern California, and an assistant coach from Creighton University -- two of the coaches that were on the list of meetings that CODE sent to DAWKINS by text message -- met with DAWKINS, UC-1 and Blazer in Las Vegas in July 2017 and accepted cash bribes. During the meeting in Las Vegas, Bland accepted a cash bribe and confirmed that he would use his influence to steer student-athletes at the University of Southern California to retain the Dawkins Company. During the trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, DAWKINS, Blazer and UC-1 also met with a third coach from Texas Christian University and paid this coach a cash bribe, as well.
After these meetings, DAWKINS discussed with college coaches who had been bribed players that they could steer to DAWKINS and his new company. For example, in August 2017, Anthony Bland, an assistant coach at the University of Southern California, facilitated meetings between DAWKINS and Sood, and the family members of a then-current student-athlete on the University of Southern California men’s basketball team, as well as a family member of a different student-athlete who was a rising freshman planning to play for the University of Southern California men’s basketball team the next season. During a meeting on the campus of the University of Southern California in or about August 2017, Bland informed DAWKINS and Sood that if they continued to fund payments to family members of University of Southern California men’s college basketball players and recruits that Bland would use his position as an assistant coach to influence these players to retain the Dawkins Company.
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DAWKINS, 26, of Los Angeles, California, and CODE, 45, of Greer, South Carolina, were also sentenced to 2 years of supervised release.
Mr. Berman praised the work of the FBI and the Special Agents of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Robert L. Boone, Noah Solowiejczyk, and Eli J. Mark are in charge of the prosecution.