All the info you need as college hoops' biggest scandal goes to trial

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Thursday, September 27, 2018

ALL OF COLLEGE basketball will be focused on a New York courtroom starting Monday, as the government argues its case in the biggest bribery and corruption scandal in the sport's history.

One year ago, FBI agents arrested 10 men after a clandestine two-year investigation. Three of the eight remaining defendants -- Adidas executive James Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code and Christian Dawkins, a former AAU director and runner for a well-known NBA agent -- are the first to be tried, on charges that they conspired to pay high school prospects and/or their families to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools Kansas, Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State.

Ever since that initial news conference in New York, in which federal agents warned rogue coaches, sneaker company employees and middlemen that the federal government had their "playbook," not much has changed about the sport -- on or off the court.

"I think people are probably talking less about cheating," one Power 5 conference coach told ESPN. "But I don't think people have stopped cheating."

Only former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, athletics director Tom Jurich and a handful of assistant coaches lost their jobs after the scandal broke. Other schools and coaches could be drawn in as government and defense lawyers lay out details from the FBI investigation -- only a few days after most Division I programs opened practices for the upcoming season.

The federal trial, the first of three scheduled between now and next April in Manhattan, is expected to take at least three weeks.

In a superseding indictment filed in April, the government alleged the defendants defrauded certain NCAA Division I universities by causing them to issue athletic-based financial aid to players who were ineligible because their families had received illicit payments to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools -- and later sign with certain agents, financial advisers and the sneaker company once they turned pro.

Prosecutors allege the defendants created economic harm to the universities because the schools could face potential NCAA penalties, including fines, scholarship losses and postseason bans, for playing ineligible student-athletes.

The defendants all have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys are expected to admit in court that their clients broke NCAA rules -- a lot of them. But they're expected to argue that while paying players to attend certain universities is one of the NCAA's greatest sins, it isn't a federal crime. They contend that the defendants never intended to harm the universities, but to actually help them by steering five-star players to certain teams.

Here's a rundown of the key figures and schools involved in USA vs. Gatto, et al:


Merl Code: The former consultant with Nike and Adidas is accused of conspiring with the other defendants to funnel thousands of dollars from Adidas to prospects' families to ensure they signed with Adidas-sponsored schools and then signed with the sneaker company once they turned pro. A former Clemson player, Code is charged with five felony counts related to attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Christian Dawkins: Dawkins, from Saginaw, Michigan, is a former runner for former NBA agent Andy Miller. His father, Lou Dawkins, won two state titles at Saginaw High School, where he coached NBA star Draymond Green, and is currently an assistant coach at Cleveland State. In a separate federal criminal case, Code and Dawkins are accused of bribing assistant coaches to influence their players to sign with Adidas, Dawkins' agency and certain financial advisors. Dawkins faces five felony counts related to attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in this case.

James Gatto: Gatto, the director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas, is specifically accused of approving sham invoices to conceal illicit payments to players' families. The New York native has worked at Adidas since 1993; he was placed on leave shortly after his arrest. His father, Jim Gatto, was a longtime high school basketball coach in New York. Gatto is charged with six felony counts related to attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He is the only one of the three defendants accused of involvement in a scheme involving Kansas recruits.


Kansas: The government alleges that between October 2016 and November 2017, Gatto conspired with Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola and others to funnel at least $90,000 to Kansas prospect Billy Preston's mother. The complaint says money was funneled through an AAU team controlled by Gassnola and through sham invoices approved by Gatto.

The government says Gassnola facilitated the cash payments to Preston's mother, Nicole Player, including a $30,000 payment delivered in a New York hotel room on Oct. 31, 2016, and $20,000 paid in a Las Vegas hotel room on Jan. 19, 2017.

Gatto, Gassnola and others are also accused of conspiring to make cash payments to the guardian of Kansas prospect Silvio De Sousa to help him get "out from under" a deal to sign with a school sponsored by a different sneaker company. On Sept. 11, 2017, according to the complaint, Gassnola told Gatto during a telephone conversation that he would need to make "another $20,000 payment" to De Sousa's guardian, Fenny Falmagne. Falmagne has denied receiving any money.

In July, Kansas officials acknowledged that the university had received two federal subpoenas to produce materials and have school officials testify to a grand jury.

Louisville: Between May 2017 and September 2017, the government alleges, Gatto, Code, Dawkins, Gassnola and others conspired to funnel approximately $100,000 from Adidas to the father of Louisville prospect Brian Bowen. The payments were to be made in four cash installments of $25,000 each.

The complaint alleges Gatto approved a sham invoice for travel expenses for an AAU team controlled by Code, who then transferred the money to Dawkins for reimbursement for the first payment to Brian Bowen Sr. Another such arrangement occurred in September 2017, according to the government, but Code, Dawkins and Gatto were arrested before a second payment was made to Bowen's father.

Pitino, Jurich and Louisville assistant coaches Jordan Fair and Kenny Johnson were fired in wake of the scandal. Jurich and Pitino have denied knowledge of the alleged scheme to pay Bowen's father, and Bowen has said he also was unaware.

The government also alleges that Dawkins, AAU coach Brad Augustine and Fair discussed making payments to the family of another high school player, Balsa Koprivica of Orlando, Florida, to secure his commitment.

Miami: Prosecutors say Gatto, Code, Dawkins and others conspired to funnel approximately $150,000 from Adidas to the family of 2018 prospect Nassir Little. Miami coach Jim Larranaga, his assistant coaches and Little's family have denied knowledge of the alleged scheme.

On Aug. 9, 2017, the complaint says, Dawkins and Code discussed the scheme to pay Little's family during a telephone conversation that was intercepted by FBI wiretaps. They discussed the need to have Larranaga call Gatto "for it to get done." During another telephone call two days later, Gatto and Code talked about the proposed deal, and Gatto asked Code to try to negotiate the payment down to $100,000 -- in line with the amount Adidas allegedly agreed to pay Bowen's father.

North Carolina State: The government alleges that Gatto, Gassnola and others conspired to funnel $40,000 from Adidas to the father of Wolfpack prospect Dennis Smith Jr. to ensure he remained committed. In October 2015, prosecutors allege, Gassnola provided $40,000 to then-NC State assistant coach Orlando Early, who was supposed to deliver the money to Smith's father. Gatto allegedly arranged for Adidas to reimburse Gassnola.


Brian Bowen: Bowen was a McDonald's All-American and the No. 14 player in the 2017 ESPN Top 100. He was among the last top-100 players to choose a school, enrolling at Louisville in the summer of 2017 after also considering Arizona, Creighton, DePaul, Michigan State and Oregon. After federal agents arrested Gatto, Code and Dawkins, Bowen was suspended by Louisville and never played in a game. In January, he transferred to South Carolina, where he continued to practice. He entered the NBA draft and later withdrew, before the NCAA declared him ineligible for the entire 2018-19 season. He signed with the Sydney Kings of Australia in August.

Silvio De Sousa: A native of Angola, De Sousa moved to the U.S. before his freshman year of high school. He transferred to IMG Academy in Florida in the summer of 2016, then reclassified and graduated early to join the Jayhawks in late December 2017. De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 forward, averaged 8.8 minutes in 20 games at Kansas last season. He scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 10 minutes in the national semifinal loss to Villanova.

Balsa Koprivica: Koprivica, a 7-foot center and son of former Serbian pro player Slavisa Koprivica, was born in Belgrade and moved to the U.S. with his mother in 2015. He has attended three high schools since arriving in Florida, most recently Montverde Academy. He is ranked 42nd in the 2019 ESPN Top 100. He is considering Gonzaga, Baylor and Florida State, among other schools.

Nassir Little: Little, from Orange Park, Florida, was ranked the No. 6 player overall in the 2018 ESPN Top 100, the No. 3 small forward in the country and the top prospect in Florida. He was MVP of the McDonald's All American game. Little played for Augustine's 1 Family Hoops AAU program in Orlando, along with Koprivica. Little was considering Arizona, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina before signing with the Tar Heels on Oct. 4. He enrolled at UNC for summer school and could be among the first players selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony.

Billy Preston: Preston, ranked 18th overall and fourth among power forwards in the 2017 ESPN Top 100, did not play in a game for the Jayhawks last season because of eligibility concerns. He was held out of 17 games while the university looked into the "financial picture" of a vehicle he wrecked on campus. He turned pro on Jan. 20 and signed a contract with BC Igokea of Bosnia. Preston wasn't selected in June's NBA draft but signed a two-way contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Dennis Smith Jr.: Smith, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, was considered the No. 1 player in his state and the best point guard in the country in 2016, according to ESPN Recruiting. He chose the Wolfpack over scholarship offers from Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Wake Forest, among others, and enrolled in January 2016. After recovering from a torn ACL suffered during his senior year of high school, he started all 32 games for the Wolfpack as a freshman in 2016-17. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year, averaging 18.1 points and leading the team in scoring, assists and steals. He was a one-and-done, picked ninth overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft. He averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists as a rookie.


Edward Diskant: Diskant has been an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York since April 2012 and is deputy chief of its Public Corruption Unit. He was recently involved in the investigation of President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and is expected to be the lead prosecutor in this case. Diskant graduated magna cum laude and received a law degree from Yale.

Steve Haney: Dawkins' lead counsel is a former prosecutor and assistant attorney general in Michigan. Haney played college basketball at San Jose State in the late 1980s and represented Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins as an NBA agent. He is also a former AAU coach and director.

Mark Moore: A former state and federal prosecutor, Moore and two other attorneys from the Nexsen Pruet firm in Greenville, South Carolina, are leading Code's defense, along with his father, Merl F. Code, a former CFL player and the first African-American municipal court judge in Greenville, South Carolina.

Michael Schachter: Gatto's lead attorney is a partner in the litigation department and co-chair of the white-collar defense practice group at the New York firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Schachter is a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he won a conviction of Martha Stewart and her broker, Peter Bacanovic.

The judge

Lewis A. Kaplan: Kaplan has been a federal judge for the Southern District of New York since 1994 and its senior judge since 2011. The Bill Clinton appointee presided over criminal trials involving 14 members of the Gambino crime family, as well as Osama bin Laden's son-in-law.

Potential key witnesses

Brad Augustine: The former coach of the AAU program 1 Family Hoops in Orlando was among 10 men arrested by FBI agents. He was never indicted or charged, but he was accused of accepting $12,700 to funnel to Koprivica's family.

Brian Bowen Sr.: Bowen was a standout high school basketball player and then worked 10 years as a police officer. He also served as a mentor and trainer for his nephew, former Michigan State and NBA player Jason Richardson. He is accused of agreeing to accept $100,000 for his son to sign with Louisville; the government alleges he received at least $19,500 in cash.

T.J. Gassnola: Gassnola, the former director of an Adidas-sponsored youth basketball team in Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud conspiracy on April 28. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 19.

Munish Sood: Sood, a financial adviser and the CEO and chief investment officer of Princeton Advisory Group in New Jersey, was among the 10 men arrested by federal agents. He was never formally charged, leading many people involved in the case to believe that he has cooperated with prosecutors.

Last month, Sood pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud and travel act offenses; payments of bribes to an agent of a federally funded organization; and wire fraud conspiracy. He and Dawkins planned to form their own sports management firm, and Sood was accused of arranging payments to various assistant coaches to gain their influence.

The rogue FBI agent

The government is trying to limit what defense attorneys can say and ask in court about a rogue undercover FBI agent, who was at the center of the government's clandestine investigation.

The unnamed agent has been accused of misappropriating federal money and spending it on gambling, food and beverages during the two-year investigation. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that the Justice Department launched an investigation into the undercover agent's alleged misbehavior in 2017. Last month, the government asked Judge Kaplan to preclude defense attorneys from mentioning the agent's alleged bad acts in front of jurors.