Top-tier college basketball programs were thrown into turmoil Tuesday as federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against 10 coaches, managers, financial advisors and representatives of sportswear companies including Adidas AG, accusing them of making illicit payments to cash in on the vast riches generated at the sport’s highest levels.
The alleged schemes include illicit payoffs to steer young athletes to powerhouse schools and into clothing contracts and financial advisory deals. Among those charged were current and former coaching staff members at Oklahoma State University, the University of Arizona, the University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina.
Perhaps the most prominent defendant is Chuck Person, a former National Basketball Association star and now associate head coach at Auburn University. Auburn said that it was suspending Person without pay.
“The madness of college basketball went well beyond the madness of March,” Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a news conference.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said the charges followed a three-year investigation into criminal influence in NCAA basketball. The three complaints unsealed on Tuesday identify the coaches but not their schools, which weren’t accused of wrongdoing.
The charges include bribery, conspiracy and fraud. The case is built in part on allegations that an executive at a global apparel company bribed students — and their families — to attend universities where the company sponsored athletic programs. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s public corruption unit also allege that business managers and financial advisors illegally paid coaches to steer student athletes to them to manage their fortunes once they turned professional.
Kim said the National Collegiate Athletic Association wasn’t informed about the investigation until Tuesday because it was undercover. The league didn’t respond to a request for comment.
An Adidas spokeswoman, Lauren Lamkin, said in a written statement: “Today, we became aware that federal investigators arrested an Adidas employee. We are learning more about the situation. We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.” Adidas shares fell 2.4 percent in Frankfurt.
“The nature of the charges brought by the federal government are deeply disturbing. We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior,” the NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, said in a written statement. “Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust.”
The complaints say that college sports officials were trading their influence over players for money. “The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisors, not because of the merits of those advisors, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisors to do so,” one complaint says.
The arrangements were lucrative for all parties and especially advisors, “for whom securing a future NBA player as a client can prove extremely profitable,” according to the court documents. “NBA draft picks can and do make tens of millions of dollars over the course of their NBA career, a portion of which they pay to their agents, and a portion of which they invest and have managed through their financial advisors and business managers.”
Other coaches charged are Lamont Evans, an assistant at Oklahoma State who was previously at South Carolina; Emanuel Richardson, an assistant at Arizona; and Anthony Bland of USC.
Evans and Richardson were suspended by their schools on Tuesday. “OSU takes seriously the high standards of conduct expected in our athletic department and does not tolerate any deviation from those standards,” Oklahoma State spokesman Gary Shutt said.
The University of Arizona said in a statement: “We were appalled to learn of the allegations as they do not reflect the standards we hold ourselves to and require from our colleagues.”
USC said it was placing Bland on administrative leave and hiring former FBI Director Louis Freeh to lead an internal investigation.
“These are serious accusations that are not consistent with University of South Carolina values,” the university said in a statement.
Also named in the case are Rashan Michel, owner of an apparel company in Atlanta and a former NBA and college referee; James Gatto, the Adidas employee; Merl Code, who is affiliated with Adidas’s high school and college basketball programs; and Jonathan Brad Augustine, program director for an unidentified high school-age basketball team.
A lawyer for Gatto didn’t return messages seeking comment. Code’s lawyer declined to comment on the charges against him.
The complaints say that at least one coach at an unnamed Florida school was also involved in the schemes. The school is described as a private research university, one of the biggest schools in the state, with about 16,000 students and a top-division athletic department. The University of Miami is the only school that fits that description.
Miami’s director of athletics, Blake James, said, “As we are just learning the details, we cannot comment on the actions taken today by federal authorities. However, if requested, we will cooperate in any legal or NCAA review of the matter.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe included a cooperating witnesses at a sports advisory firm, and its undercover agents secretly recorded conversations and made illicit payments.
At a South Carolina restaurant where the cooperating witness recorded one conversation, a defendant, sports agent Christian Dawkins, explained to another, financial advisor Munish Sood, that the good thing about lining up coaches was it provided access to “good players every year,” according to one of the complaints.