Dismissal sought in hoops corruption scandal
Lawyers for three of the men charged in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption have asked a federal judge to dismiss charges against them, arguing that their clients’ alleged conduct might violate NCAA rules but doesn’t break federal law.
- Brian Bowen, whose scandal-tied recruitment led to the firing of Rick Pitino at Louisville, told Outside the Lines that he had no knowledge of a payout for signing with the Cardinals.
In a motion sent to U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on Friday, attorneys for Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code and former NBA agent Christian Dawkins argue that the men can’t be charged with wire fraud because, among other things, their alleged actions didn’t defraud victims but actually helped them.
The FBI alleges that Gatto, Code and Dawkins worked with others to pay prospective student-athletes’ families to ensure the players signed with Adidas-sponsored schools and then signed with Adidas once they turned pro, the federal complaints allege.
“The payments purportedly made by Defendants were not themselves unlawful,” the defendants’ lawyers wrote in a motion to dismiss. “It is not against the law to offer a financial incentive to a family to persuade them to send their son or daughter to a particular college. Such payments might, however, violate the rules of the NCAA. After expending enormous resources, the Government has strained to find any legal theory — ultimately resorting to one that was directly rejected by a Federal Court of Appeals — in order to transform NCAA rule violations into a conspiracy to commit federal wire fraud.”
On Sept. 26, federal charges were filed against 10 people, including four assistant coaches, following a clandestine three-year FBI investigation.
Federal indictments allege that Gatto, Code and Dawkins schemed to help Louisville sign highly regarded prospect Brian Bowen, who told ESPN earlier this week that he was unaware of the scheme. Federal documents contend that Adidas funneled $100,000 to an unnamed player, later identified as Bowen, to sign with Louisville at the request of a Cardinals coach. The FBI says Bowen’s father, Brian Bowen Sr., accepted the money.
“I was shocked,” Bowen told ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Thursday. “I didn’t believe it at all. … They have to be lying. There’s no way I’m involved in it.
“I feel like I’m a victim because of greedy adults.”
The allegations led to the firings of longtime Cardinals coach Rick Pitino and athletics director Tom Jurich. Pitino and Jurich have denied knowing of the alleged payments.
The U.S. Department of Justice also alleged that Gatto, Code, Dawkins and others conspired to funnel $150,000 to a high school player being recruited by the University of Miami. Miami coach Jim Larranaga confirmed he has received a federal subpoena and is cooperating with the investigation. Larranaga has denied knowledge of the scheme.
Even if the alleged payments were made, the defendants’ lawyers argued in a motion to dismiss, their actions didn’t break federal law.
“The wire fraud statute prohibits ‘schemes to defraud’ victims, not schemes to help them,” the motion said. “The Indictment takes pains to assert that the purpose of Defendants’ alleged conspiracy was to ‘step up and help’ Louisville and Miami. In particular, the Government expressly alleges that Defendants’ scheme was motivated by a desire to ‘assist’ the Universities recruit talented athletes and concedes that Defendants provided funds to the three families only after they were asked to do so by the Universities’ basketball coaches.
“The fact that the coaches asked Defendants to help via means that could, ‘if uncovered,’ lead to potential negative consequences with the NCAA does not change the fact that, according to the Indictment’s own allegations, Defendants sought to help, not harm, Louisville and Miami.”
In a letter sent to Kaplan earlier this week, Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York, wrote that recordings of nearly 1,300 phone calls totaling nearly 200 hours that were intercepted by the FBI have been turned over to the defendants’ attorneys through discovery. The lawyers wrote in their motion to dismiss that law enforcement monitored five different phone numbers over 330 days and intercepted more than 4,000 calls.