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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

U.S. Attorney Announces The Arrest Of 10 Individuals, Including Four Division I Coaches, For College Basketball Fraud And Corruption Schemes

Coaches Alleged To Have Accepted Cash Bribes In Return For Steering College Players Under Their Control To Corrupt Financial Advisors

Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the arrest today of 10 individuals, including four Division I NCAA men’s basketball coaches and a senior executive at a major athletic apparel company (“Company-1”), in connection with two related fraud and corruption schemes.  In the first scheme, as alleged in the three Complaints unsealed today, college basketball coaches took cash bribes from athlete advisors, including business managers and financial advisors, in exchange for using their influence over college players under their control to pressure and direct those players and their families to retain the services of the advisors paying the bribes.  In the second scheme, a senior executive at Company-1, working in connection with corrupt advisors, funneled bribe payments to high school-aged players and their families to secure those players’ commitments to attend universities sponsored by Company-1, rather than universities sponsored by rival athletic apparel companies. 

 

The three Complaints unsealed today charge four coaches, CHUCK CONNORS PERSON, LAMONT EVANS, EMANUEL RICHARDSON, a/k/a “Book,” and ANTHONY BLAND, a/k/a “Tony”; three athlete advisors, CHRISTIAN DAWKINS, MUNISH SOOD, and RASHAN MICHEL; a senior executive at Company-1, JAMES GATTO, a/k/a “Jim,” along with two individuals affiliated with Company-1, MERL CODE and JONATHAN BRAD AUGUSTINE, with wire fraud, bribery, travel act, and conspiracy offenses.  The defendants were all arrested this morning in various parts of the country.  DAWKINS, SOOD, and AUGUSTINE are scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate James L. Cott in federal court later today.

 

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said:  “The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one – coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisors circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits.  For the ten charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March.  Month after month, the defendants allegedly exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.  The defendants’ alleged criminal conduct not only sullied the spirit of amateur athletics, but showed contempt for the thousands of players and coaches who follow the rules, and play the game the right way.”

 

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Today’s charges detail a corrupt practice in which highly rated high school and college basketball players were steered toward lucrative business deals with agents, advisors, and an international athletics apparel company.  As alleged, NCAA Division I and AAU coaches created a pay-to-play culture, agreeing to provide access to their most valuable players while also effectively exerting their influence over them.  Today’s arrests should also serve as a warning to those who conduct business this way in the world of college athletics.”
According to allegations contained in the three Complaints[1] unsealed today in Manhattan federal court, and other publicly available documents:

 

Overview of the Investigation

 

The charges in the Complaints result from a scheme involving bribery, corruption, and fraud in intercollegiate athletics.  Since 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the FBI have been investigating the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate basketball governed by the NCAA.  The investigation has revealed two related schemes.  In the first scheme (the “Coach Bribery Scheme”), athlete advisors – including financial advisors and business managers, among others – allegedly paid bribes to assistant and associate head basketball coaches at NCAA Division I universities, and sometimes directly to student-athletes at those universities, facilitated by the coaches.  In exchange for the bribes, the coaches agreed to pressure and exert influence over student-athletes under their control to retain the services of the bribe-payors once the athletes entered the National Basketball Association (“NBA”).  

 

In the second scheme (the “Company-1 Scheme”), athlete advisors working with high-level Company-1 employees, allegedly paid bribes to student-athletes playing at, or bound for, NCAA Division I universities, and to the families of such athletes.  These bribes were paid in exchange for a commitment by the athletes to matriculate at a specific university sponsored by Company-1, and a promise to ultimately sign agreements to be represented by the bribe-payors once the athletes entered the NBA.

 

Participants in both schemes allegedly took steps to conceal the illegal payments, including (i) funneling them to athletes and/or their families indirectly through surrogates and entities controlled by the scheme participants; and (ii) making or intending to make misrepresentations to the relevant universities regarding the involvement of student-athletes and coaches in the schemes, in violation of NCAA rules.

 

As described in the complaints, these schemes operated as a fraud on the universities involved, all of which provide scholarships to players and salaries to coaches with the understanding and expectation that the players and coaches are in full compliance with all relevant NCAA rules and regulations.  Moreover, these schemes subject the universities to substantial potential penalties by the NCAA, including, but not limited to, financial fines and penalties as well as the potential loss of eligibility to compete in various NCAA events. 

 

The Coach Bribery Schemes

 

The first scheme alleged in the Complaints entailed bribes by DAWKINS and SOOD, among others, to four men’s basketball coaches, PERSON, EVANS, RICHARDSON and BLAND, in exchange for the coaches’ agreement to direct players under their control, and the players’ families, to retain DAWKINS and SOOD once the players entered the NBA.  These corrupt arrangements, which turn on the coaches’ abuse of their positions of trust at the universities, are valuable both to the coaches, who receive cash bribes, and to the bribe-payors, for whom securing a future NBA player as a client can prove extremely profitable. 

 

Allegations Involving Chuck Person

 

Beginning in or around 2016, and continuing into 2017, PERSON, a former NBA player and the associate head coach at University-1, abused his coaching position at University-1 to solicit and obtain approximately $91,500 in bribe payments from a financial advisor and business manager for professional athletes, who, unbeknownst to PERSON, was providing information to law enforcement (“CW-1”).  In exchange for the bribes, PERSON agreed to direct certain University-1 basketball players to retain the services of CW-1 when those student-athletes entered the NBA.  The bribe payments initially were arranged by MICHEL, who had a preexisting relationship with PERSON and operated a clothing store that specialized in making bespoke suits for professional athletes.  Over the course of the scheme, PERSON did, in fact, arrange multiple meetings between CW-1 and players and/or their family members, in which he falsely touted CW-1’s qualifications without disclosing that he was being bribed to recommend CW-1.  For example, at one meeting, PERSON told the mother of a player at University-1 that CW-1 was PERSON’s own financial advisor and had also advised NBA Hall of Fame inductee (and University-1 alumnus) Charles Barkley, neither of which was true.  PERSON similarly told another player that CW-1 would purchase him a separate cell phone over which they could communicate so as to conceal the nature of the scheme.  

 

In addition to the bribe payments that PERSON solicited and received, PERSON also arranged for CW-1 to make payments directly to the families of the players PERSON was steering to CW-1.  PERSON further claimed to have given approximately $18,500 of the bribe money he received to the families of two student-athletes whom PERSON sought to steer to retain CW-1.

 

Allegations Involving Lamont Evans

 

Beginning in 2016, and continuing into 2017, EVANS solicited at least $22,000 from CW-1 and SOOD in exchange for EVANS’s agreement to exert his official influence over certain student-athletes that EVANS coached at two NCAA Division I universities, University-3 and University-4, to retain SOOD and CW-1’s business management and financial advisory services once those players entered the NBA.  In return, EVANS (who had received bribe payments from DAWKINS previously), promised SOOD and CW-1 that he would steer multiple specific players to retain their services.  Indeed, as a part of the scheme, EVANS arranged for CW-1 to meet with a student-athlete EVANS coached at University-4 (“Player-4”), and arranged for SOOD to meet with the mother of another student-athlete EVANS had previously coached at University-3, for the purpose of pressuring them to retain SOOD and CW-1.  Moreover, and in return for the bribe payments, EVANS falsely touted the services of SOOD and CW-1 to players and their families, telling Player-4, for example, that CW-1 was “my guy,” adding, falsely, that CW-1 “has helped me personally.  And I trust that,” and assuring Player-4 that “[i]t’s going to benefit you.  I promise you that.”  In explaining the benefit of bribing an assistant coach such as EVANS, DAWKINS explained to SOOD and CW-1 that because coaches like EVANS could not get “caught” receiving bribes because “his job is on the line,” EVANS and other corrupt coaches would have an incentive to “block” other athlete advisors from accessing the players under the coaches’ supervision and directing those players to the bribe-payors.

 

Allegations Involving Emanuel Richardson, a/k/a “Book”

 

Beginning in or around February 2017, and continuing through September 2017, DAWKINS and SOOD, along with two undercover law enforcement agents posing as financial backers of CW-1 (“UC-1” and “UC-2,” respectively), paid or facilitated the payment of $20,000 in bribes to RICHARDSON in return for RICHARDSON’s commitment to steer players under his control at University-4 to retain DAWKINS and SOOD’s services upon entering the NBA.  During that period, RICHARDSON repeatedly assured DAWKINS and SOOD that RICHARDSON would use his influence over players at Univeristy-4 to direct them to DAWKINS and SOOD, explaining, with respect to one particular player DAWKINS and SOOD sought to sign (“Player-6”), that Player-6 would be “insulated in who he talks to.”  RICHARDSON added, with respect to himself, that “you’re looking at the guy” whom Player-6 trusted.  RICHARDSON subsequently facilitated at least one meeting between DAWKINS, SOOD, and a representative of Player-6 for the purpose of having that representative commit the player to retain DAWKINS and SOOD’s business management and financial advisory services.  In addition, RICHARDSON appears to have provided a portion of the bribe money he received from DAWKINS, SOOD, UC-1, and UC-2 to at least one prospective high school basketball player (“Player-5”) in order to recruit that player to play for University-4. 

 

Allegations Involving Anthony Bland, a/k/a “Tony,”

 

Beginning in or around July 2017, and continuing into September 2017, DAWKINS and SOOD, working with UC-1, paid and/or facilitated the payment of at least $13,000 in bribes to BLAND in exchange for BLAND’s agreement to exert his official influence over certain student-athletes BLAND coached at University-5, to retain DAWKINS and SOOD’s business management and/or financial advisory services once those players entered the NBA.  In particular, as BLAND told DAWKINS and SOOD, in return for their bribe payments, “I definitely can get the players. . . .  And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”  In addition, and as part of the scheme, at BLAND’s direction DAWKINS and SOOD paid or facilitated the payment of an additional $9,000 directly to the families of two student-athletes at University-5.  In return, BLAND facilitated a meeting between DAWKINS and SOOD and a relative of a player currently attending University-5 (“Player-9”) for the purpose of pressuring Player-9 to retain DAWKINS and SOOD.

 

The Company-1 Scheme

 

In addition to the Coach Bribery Scheme described above, the investigation further revealed a second, related scheme.  In the second scheme, JAMES GATTO, a/k/a “Jim,” a high-level executive at Company-1, and MERL CODE, an individual affiliated with Company-1 and its high school and college basketball programs, conspired to pay high school basketball players or their families for commitments by those players to attend and play for aCompany-1-sponsored university, and to sign with Company-1 upon turning professional.  In addition, DAWKINS, SOOD, and JONATHAN BRAD AUGUSTINE brokered and facilitated the corrupt payments in exchange for a promise that the players also would retain the services of DAWKINS and SOOD upon turning professional. 

 

Specifically, in or around 2017, GATTO, CODE, DAWKINS, AUGUSTINE, and SOOD agreed to pay bribes to at least three high school basketball players or their families in the following manner:

 

Allegations Involving Player-10 and University-6

 

First, GATTO, CODE, DAWKINS, and SOOD worked together to funnel $100,000 from Company-1 to the family of a high school basketball player (“Player-10”) in exchange for Player-10’s commitment to play at an NCAA Division I university whose athletic programs are sponsored by Company-1 (“University-6”), and in further exchange for a commitment from Player-10 to retain DAWKINS and SOOD, and to sign with Company-1, once Player-10 joined the NBA.  DAWKINS told CW-1 and others on a recorded conversation that he did so at the request of a coach at University-6 (“Coach-2”), and call records show that GATTO spoke directly with Coach-2 multiple times in the days before Player-10 publicly committed to attending University-6. 

 

Moreover, because the payments to the family of Player-10 were both in violation of NCAA rules and illegal, they were disguised by GATTO, CODE, DAWKINS, and SOOD using fake purchase orders, invoices and related documents to make them appear to be payments from Company-1 to CODE’s company.  As CODE explained to DAWKINS, while such payments are sometimes made “off the books,” for this particular payment, GATTO and CODE had identified it to Company-1 as “as a payment to my team, to my organization, so it’s on the books, [but] it’s not on the books for what it’s actually for.”  Indeed, the money, once allocated by Company-1, was funneled back to DAWKINS to use to pay the father of Player-10 in cash.

 

Allegations Involving Player-11 and University-6

 

Second, DAWKINS and AUGUSTINE agreed to facilitate payments to the family of another high school basketball player (“Player-11”) in exchange for Player-11’s commitment to play at University-6 and ultimately to retain DAWKINS’s services.  While these payments were not directly funded by Company-1, they were made to benefit Company-1, which, as noted, sponsors University-6, and with the expectation that Company-1 would provide additional funding to AUGUSTINE in return.  AUGUSTINE noted, “all [Coach-2] has to do is pick up the phone and call somebody [and say] these are my guys, they’re taking care of us.” 

 

Because these payments from DAWKINS to Player-11’s family were both in violation of NCAA rules and illegal, AUGUSTINE suggested that the “easiest way” for DAWKINS to provide money for Player-11 and his family would be to send the money to AUGUSTINE’s “non-profit for the grassroots team,” although AUGUSTINE confirmed that he also would accept cash.

 

As DAWKINS subsequently explained to UC-2 in the context of providing such money to AUGUSTINE and others, “obviously some of it can’t be completely accounted for on paper because some of it is, whatever you want to call it, illegal.”

 

Allegations Involving Player-12 and University-7

 

Third, GATTO, CODE, DAWKINS, and AUGUSTINE agreed to make payments of as much as $150,000 from Company-1 to another high school basketball player (“Player-12”) in order to secure Player-12’s commitment to play at an NCAA Division I university whose athletic programs are also sponsored by Company-1 (“University-7”).  Because Player-12 played for an amateur team run by AUGUSTINE and sponsored by Company-1, AUGUSTINE, with the assistance of CODE and DAWKINS, attempted to broker the deal to secure Player-12’s commitment to attend University-7 rather than a school sponsored by a rival athletic apparel company.  In exchange for the payment, Player-12 similarly was expected to commit to retaining DAWKINS’s services and signing with Company-1 once Player-12 joined the NBA.

 

Much as with the payments to Player-10 described above, according to intercepted calls, GATTO stated that the payments from Company-1 to Player-12 were allegedly requested specifically by a coach at University-7 (“Coach-3”), who allegedly called GATTO directly and who, according to DAWKINS, CODE, and AUGUSTINE, “knows everything” and, in particular, “knows something’s gotta happen for” Player-12 to commit to attending University-7. 

 

*                *                *

 

Defendant

Age

Hometown

Charges (Potential Maximum Term of Imprisonment)

Chuck Connors Person

 

53

Auburn, AL

Bribery conspiracy, Solicitation of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud, Wire fraud conspiracy; Travel Act conspiracy (80 years)

 

Rashan Michel

 

43

Smyrna, GA

Bribery conspiracy, Solicitation of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud,

Wire fraud conspiracy; Travel Act conspiracy (80 years)

 

Lamont Evans

 

40

Stillwater, OK

Bribery conspiracy, Solicitation of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud,

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud; Travel Act conspiracy (80 years)

Emanuel Richardson, a/k/a “Book”

44

Tucson, AZ

Bribery conspiracy, Solicitation of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud,

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud; Travel Act conspiracy (80 years)

Anthony Bland, a/k/a “Tony”

37

Los Angeles, CA

Bribery conspiracy, Solicitation of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud,

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud; Travel Act conspiracy (80 years)

Christian Dawkins

24

Atlanta, GA

Bribery conspiracy, Payments of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud (3 counts), Wire fraud conspiracy (2 counts), Wire fraud (2 counts), Travel Act conspiracy, Money laundering conspiracy (200 years)

Munish Sood

45

Trenton, NJ

Bribery conspiracy, Payments of bribes, Honest services fraud conspiracy, Honest services fraud (3 counts), Wire fraud conspiracy (2 counts), Wire fraud (2 counts), Travel Act conspiracy, Money laundering conspiracy (200 years)

James Gatto, a/k/a “Jim”

47

Wilsonville, OR

Wire fraud conspiracy, Wire fraud (2 counts), Money laundering conspiracy (80 years)

Merl Code

43

Greer, SC

Wire fraud conspiracy, Wire fraud (2 counts), Money laundering conspiracy (80 years)

Jonathan Brad Augustine

32

Winter Garden, FL

Wire fraud conspiracy, Wire fraud (2 counts), Money laundering conspiracy (80 years)

 

 

The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge.

 

Mr. Kim praised the work of the FBI and the Criminal Investigators of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

 

Anyone with information relevant to the investigation is asked to contact the FBI at the special phone number established to receive such information, (212) 384-2135.

 

The case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Robert Boone, Russell Capone, Edward B. Diskant, and Noah Solowiejczyk are in charge of the prosecution.

 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the texts of the Complaints and the descriptions of the Complaints set forth below constitute only allegations and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Updated September 26, 2017