U.S. Attorney’s Office Announces Conviction Of Christian Dawkins And Merl Code For Bribing NCAA Division I Men’s College Basketball Coaches
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the conviction of CHRISTIAN DAWKINS and MERL CODE for conspiring to bribe various NCAA Division I men’s college basketball coaches. DAWKINS was additionally found guilty of a substantive count of bribery. The defendants were convicted after a two-and-a-half week trial before U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos.
DAWKINS and CODE were both previously convicted for their roles in a scheme to defraud an Adidas-sponsored university by funneling payments from Adidas to the family of a high-school college basketball player and then concealing those payments from the school.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Today, Christian Dawkins and Merl Code were found guilty a second time for their roles in corrupting the world of college basketball, in this case for conspiring to bribe multiple Division I men’s basketball coaches. And while their convictions mark the culmination of the criminal charges announced by this Office in September 2017, they should also make clear to those who might be tempted to engage in the sort of misconduct these prosecutions have only begun to expose: that bribery is a crime, one this Office is prepared to charge criminally and prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
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 2015 until 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 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 Sood to pay Richardson an additional $15,000 cash bribe in New Jersey in July 2017.
In 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 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, 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 in exchange for agreeing to use their influence to steer players on their teams to the Dawkins Company. In particular, 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 same trip to Las Vegas, 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, and consistent with the bribery scheme, DAWKINS continued to discuss with these corrupt college coaches players that they could steer to DAWKINS and his new company. For example, in August 2017, Bland, facilitated meetings between DAWKINS, 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 August 2017, Bland also 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 in order to influence these players to retain the Dawkins Company.
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DAWKINS, 26, of Atlanta, Georgia, and CODE, 45, of Greer, South Carolina, were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. DAWKINS was also convicted of a substantive bribery count, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. DAWKINS and CODE were acquitted of the other charges in the Indictment. Both defendants will be sentenced before Judge Ramos at a future date.
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.