AAU director pleads guilty, agrees to cooperate in federal investigation

Thomas "T.J." Gassnola, an AAU basketball director from Massachusetts, has pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud conspiracy and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the federal government's investigation into bribes and other corruption in college basketball.

Gassnola is accused of working with Adidas officials to bribe high school players -- including current or former players at Kansas, Louisville and NC State -- to sign with Adidas-sponsored universities and then sign endorsement deals with the shoe company upon turning pro.

According to court records, Gassnola, director of the Adidas-sponsored AAU program New England Playaz, was indicted on March 30 and surrendered to authorities on April 11. He was released on $50,000 bond.

The indictment released on Friday alleges that "Gassnola and others, known and unknown, participated in a scheme to defraud certain universities, by making, agreeing to make, and concealing, including through false representations and pretenses, payments to the families of high school student-athletes in connection with the student-athletes' commitment to play basketball for those universities, thereby causing the universities to provide athletic scholarships to those student-athletes who, in truth and in fact, were ineligible to compete as a result of the payments."

In a March 30 court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark said Gassnola participated in proffer sessions before he was charged, revealing new information that might lead to grand jury subpoenas or indictments for individuals not currently charged in the cases.

"That information has proven reliable and has been corroborated by law enforcement investigations in connection with this case," Mark wrote.

According to a superseding indictment filed earlier this month in a federal case against Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code and co-defendant Christian Dawkins, a former runner for NBA agent Andy Miller, Gassnola allegedly conspired with the others to provide at least $90,000 to the mother of former Kansas player Billy Preston between October 2016 and November 2017, and at least $20,000 to the legal guardian of current Jayhawks player Silvio De Sousa.

The indictment also alleges Gassnola and the others conspired to provide $40,000 from Adidas to the father of an NC State player in 2015. Sources told ESPN that player is current Dallas Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

Gassnola is also accused of conspiring with Gatto, Code and Dawkins to funnel approximately $100,000 from Adidas to the father of former Louisville signee Brian Bowen in 2017. The government alleges they planned to make four payments of $25,000 by submitting sham invoices to Adidas for travel and other fees. Bowen enrolled at Louisville last year, but never played in a game before transferring to South Carolina. He entered the NBA draft earlier this month but did not hire an agent.

The indictment says Gatto and others concealed payments to Preston's mother by transferring money to an AAU team controlled by the unidentified Adidas consultant. Sources told ESPN that Gassnola is the consultant, who is referred to as "CC-3" in the indictment. Among the noted payments, prosecutors say the consultant delivered $30,000 to the player's mother at a hotel room in New York on Oct. 31, 2016, and another $20,000 in cash at a hotel room in Las Vegas on Jan. 19, 2017. The consultant also wired $15,000 to his mother on June 14, 2017.

In August 2017, the indictment alleges, De Sousa's legal guardian informed the consultant that the player had received illicit payments to attend a school sponsored by one of Adidas' rivals. The guardian told the consultant that the student-athlete was more interested in attending Kansas, but would need to repay payments from the rival apparel company in order to do so.

De Sousa announced he would enroll at Kansas on Aug. 30, 2017. According to the indictment, on Sept. 11, 2017, Gatto was informed by the unidentified Adidas consultant that he would need to make "another $20,000 payment" to the player's guardian to help the student-athlete "out from under" the deal to sign with the other school.

De Sousa, who is from Angola, attended IMG Academy and joined the Jayhawks in late December. De Sousa averaged 8.8 minutes in 20 games this past season, and scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 10 minutes in the national semifinal loss to Villanova.

The indictment also alleges that Gatto and others conspired in 2015 to funnel approximately $40,000 from Adidas to the father of a player who was "widely considered the top high school recruit in the state of North Carolina and who had played for an [Adidas-sponsored] AAU team" to ensure that he signed with the Wolfpack and signed an apparel deal with Adidas once he turned pro.

The unidentified player committed to NC State in September 2015, but wasn't happy with his decision and was considering decommitting about a month later, according to the indictment. Gatto and the unidentified Adidas consultant agreed to make a $40,000 payment to an unnamed NC State coach, who would then deliver it to the player's parent, the indictment alleges. The payment was concealed from NC State officials and the NCAA, according to prosecutors.

The indictment says the player enrolled at NC State for the 2016-17 season and entered the NBA draft in June 2017.

Gassnola was first linked to the FBI investigation in February, when he was listed on balance sheets for Miller and his sports agency, ASM Sports. According to the ledgers, which were obtained by Yahoo Sports, Gassnola received $17,300 from ASM Sports. Gassnola's attorney, Dan Kelly, told the Boston Globe that the money was for a pre-draft workout.

The New England Playaz were one of four prominent AAU teams banned by the NCAA from playing in NCAA-certified summer tournaments in July 2012 because of Gassnola's association with ASM Sports. At the time, the NCAA obtained an email from Miller to Gassnola and the other three AAU directors, in which Miller complained about the AAU directors not delivering his agency potential clients:

"I get tired of being the 1 guy that has to get the 1st rd [sic] picks every year. I'd be happy to help you get guys + lend support. You have to want it + have to hustle. To create situations to manifest chaos + plow down walls to open up new opp's [sic]," the email stated, according to an NCAA release in July 2012.

"We're facing a summer with no revenue. Yet, everyone will expect their checks, expenses reimburse [sic], etc. I try to give a consistant [sic] platform inorder [sic] to facilitate production. Am I getting the level of production in return that I want or expect?...You decided to be apart [sic] of it on some level...Do more than just give it thought, act on it."

ESPN's Jeff Goodman contributed to this report.
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