FBI: Adidas Exec, NCAA Coaches Bribed Athletes With $250,000
Ten people, including coaches from NCAA programs that churn out NBA stars, were caught by an investigation that included wiretapped conversations.
A two-year FBI investigation into bribery and influence-peddling in college sports has led to the arrest of ten people, including high-level college basketball coaches and an Adidas employee, the FBI announced Tuesday.
In newly unsealed court records, the FBI details two alleged bribery schemes inside prominent college basketball teams. In one, an associate head coach at Auburn University allegedly accepted over $91,000 in bribes from a financial advisor and a suit-maker, whose services the coach allegedly pressured student athletes into buying.
In another scheme, an Adidas executive allegedly worked with college coaches to bribe talented high school basketball players into attending Adidas-sponsored colleges.
Among those charged in the alleged bribery schemes are Auburn University associate head coach and former NBA star Chuck Person, Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans, University of Arizona assistant coach Emanuel Richardson, and USC assistant coach Tony Bland. Adidas executive James Gatto and an assistant Merl Code also allegedly participated in the schemes.
The first alleged scheme involved kickbacks at Auburn University, where Person is an associate head coach. Person accepted over $91,000 from a financial advisor and a suit-maker, according to charging documents. In exchange, Person allegedly promised to channel college athletes into business agreements with the financial advisor and the suit-maker.
NCAA athletes are not allowed to accept payment for their membership on college teams. But Person allegedly used his position of power to promise the students and their families discreet funding from his associates.
In a conversation with the financial advisor, Person allegedly boasted of his status with student athletes. One promising basketball player “listens to one person,” Person allegedly bragged. “That’s me, yep.”
During a December 2016 meeting in New York, Person allegedly introduced that student athlete to the financial advisor, telling the athlete that the advisor would “sit down with your mom and we’ll come up with something. We can help you out.” The athlete allegedly replied that he trusted the coach. “Whatever he good with, I’m with,” the player allegedly told the financial advisor. “I trust him 100 percent.”
Person allegedly suggested giving the player money every month and told him not to discuss the deal, as it was a violation of NCAA rules. But the deal could help catapult the player into the NBA, Person allegedly implied.
“This is how the NBA players get it done, they get early relationships, and the form partnerships, they form trust,” Person allegedly said, adding that a relationship with Michel would give the player access to professional suits. “You’ll start looking like an NBA ball player. That’s what you are.”
Person also allegedly spoke with the student athlete’s mother on a wiretapped call, claiming her son was “going to be good enough to go first round” in NBA drafts. Person allegedly told the mother he would set her family up with the financial advisor, who would give them money until the student was drafted into the NBA, at which point he would sign a formal contract with the advisor.
In the second scheme, Adidas’s head of global sports marketing James Gatto and an associate allegedly conspired with coaches at Adidas-sponsored colleges to bribe top high school athletes into committing to those colleges. In one instance in 2017, Gatto allegedly worked with a coach at a Kentucky college to pay an All-American high school athlete’s family $100,000 in exchange for the athlete signing with the college basketball team.
Though the player and the college are not named, the charging document appears to describe the University of Louisville, the local TV station WDRB noted. In a surprise move this year, the University of Louisville announced that All-American basketball player Brian Bowen had signed with the school. Gatto allegedly spoke on the phone with the school’s coach multiple times in the days before the star athlete signed. Gatto and other co-conspirators allegedly disguised the transactions to the player’s family, to make the payments look legitimate.
Gatto allegedly told Adidas that one such transaction was made to look like “a payment to my team, to my organization, so it’s on the books, [but] it’s not on the books for what it’s actually for.”
In another instance, Gatto and associates allegedly attempted to offer a promising student athlete $150,000 if he would attend an Adidas-sponsored school in Florida.
In a statement, Adidas said it was unaware of Gatto’s alleged dealings.
“Today, we became aware that federal investigators arrested an Adidas employee,” the company said in a Tuesday statement. “We are learning more about the situation. We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.”
In both alleged schemes, most dealings were conducted through assistant coaches. In one taped conversation, an alleged conspirator told an associate that head coaches “aren’t willing [to take bribes] ‘cause they’re making too much money. And it’s too risky.”
An assistant coach from the Kentucky school (likely the University of Louisville) confirmed the need for secrecy, saying during a wiretapped phone call that the school’s basketball program was already on probation over a bribery scandal that involved coaches procuring strippers and sex workers for the basketball team and potential recruits.
A representative at the University of Louisville acknowledged to WDRB that the school was linked to the federal bribery probe.
In a taped phone conversation, an alleged conspirator claimed the assistant coaches were the ones pulling the strings at Adidas. “No one swings a bigger dick than [the coach]” at Adidas, the person said.