The FBI announced Tuesday that 10 people, including four college basketball assistant coaches, were arrested as part of a two-year investigation into bribes and other corruption in the sport.
Assistant coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Louisville, Miami, Oklahoma State and USC were implicated in the investigation, and on Wednesday, Louisville announced that athletic director Tom Jurich and longtime basketball coach Rick Pitino have been placed on administrative leave.
Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, told reporters that the investigation is ongoing. There might be additional arrests, and more schools might be involved.
Court records and sealed complaints released by the U.S. Attorney's office reveal an elaborate, clandestine FBI investigation that has involved wiretaps, surveillance video, undercover agents and cooperating witnesses. Here is a look at some of the findings:
First, the advisers and coaches
On May 6, 2016, Louis Martin "Marty" Blazer III, a Pittsburgh-based financial adviser, was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with wire fraud and accused of siphoning $2.35 million from the accounts of several professional athletes in order to invest in movie projects and make Ponzi-like payments. According to the SEC's complaint, when its examiners uncovered the unauthorized withdrawals and asked Blazer to explain them, he lied and produced falsified documents in an attempt to hide his misconduct.
The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Blazer, who founded Blazer Capital Management as a concierge firm targeting pro athletes and other high-worth individuals as clients, took the money from five clients without their authorization from October 2010 to January 2013 to invest in two movie projects. The commission alleged that Blazer had personal financial interest in the development of the films "Mafia the Movie" and "Sibling."
The commission's complaint said Blazer pitched the movie project to an athlete as an investment opportunity, but that client "expressly refused to make the investment." Blazer allegedly took $550,000 from the client's account anyway and invested in the film projects. When the client later learned about Blazer's actions and demanded repayment, Blazer took money out of a different athlete's account to make repayment in "Ponzi-like fashion."
On Aug. 4 of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Blazer to make restitution of $1.8 million and to pay a civil penalty of $150,000. The commission had barred him from the industry in May 2016. As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office, he agreed to plead guilty to securities fraud, aggravated identity theft, false statements and documents, and two counts of wire fraud, according to a Sept. 19 cooperation agreement.
It wasn't the first time Blazer was investigated by financial regulators. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an unidentified NFL player filed a complaint against Blazer in March 2011 with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), an industry-funded group that regulates financial advisers and the firms where they work.
The football player alleged that he lost $4 million because Blazer misappropriated or mismanaged the player's accounts from 2001 to 2009. Blazer told FINRA investigators that the player had recklessly withdrawn money from his accounts, forcing Blazer's firm to sell other assets in order to generate cash. An arbitrator awarded the football player $850,000 in May 2012.
In 2015, Blazer was also linked to an investigation of improper cash payments to University of North Carolina football players. A grand jury indicted former Tar Heels player Christopher Hawkins for violating the state's sports agent law by giving money to a UNC player and illegally contacting another about signing a contract. During the investigation, former UNC linebacker Robert Quinn told state investigators that Hawkins gave Quinn money to steer him to Blazer and agent Peter Schaffer, according to court documents. Kendric Burney, the other former UNC player, told investigators that Hawkins arranged and attended Burney's meetings with Blazer and Schaffer.
U.S. Department of Justice documents released Tuesday indicate Blazer also was accused of a 14-year-long wire fraud scheme in which he made "payments and loans to NCAA athletes in order to induce those student-athletes to retain the defendant as a financial advisor and/or business manager."
Blazer also agreed to one other condition as part of his plea agreement: He became a cooperating witness for the FBI, providing information that sparked the investigation into the relationship between college basketball coaches, financial advisers, sports agents, marketing officials and apparel company employees in recruiting NBA-bound players.
Sometime during the fall of 2016, a mutual friend introduced Blazer to Rashan Michel, a former NBA and Southeastern Conference referee. After leaving his NBA referee role in 2001, Michel opened Thompson Bespoke Clothiers in Atlanta, which sold high-end, custom-tailored suits. His clients included NFL players such as Todd Gurley, Teddy Bridgewater, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, among others. In 2014, Michel designed the suits worn by the top seven picks in the NFL draft, according to his social media account.
This past spring, former LSU tailback Leonard Fournette and former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson were among the players who wore Michel's suits on the first night of the NFL draft.
Michel, 43, attended Talladega College, a historically black college in Talladega, Alabama, and worked as an NBA referee for four seasons beginning in 1997, league spokesman Tim Frank told ESPN in 2011. At the time, Frank wouldn't say why Michel left the league. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Michel worked 212 NBA games as an official.
In an interview with Stacks Magazine in 2014, Michel said he couldn't find work after leaving pro basketball. He started selling clothes for a clothier in Chicago and then spent six months studying under a master tailor in Canada. He launched Thompson Bespoke Clothiers in 2007, according to state of Georgia records. He had recently moved to Charlotte and planned to open a second store there, according to a post on his Instagram account.
Michel has been in the spotlight before. On March 30, 2011, he confronted former NBA star Dominique Wilkins while Wilkins was wrapping up his broadcasting duties after a Hawks-Magic game in Atlanta. A video of the incident obtained by TMZ, which was taken by a fan with a cellphone, showed a person identified as Wilkins throwing at least two punches at a man in the first row before he was pulled away. After yanking off his tie and tossing aside his suit jacket, the 6-foot-8 Wilkins tried to get back at the man before several people stepped in, pushing him onto the court, according to a 2011 ESPN.com story.
Michel told Atlanta police that Wilkins owed him $12,500 for custom-made suits; Wilkins said he believed the suits were a gift. Michel was charged with two counts of misdemeanor simple battery and suffered a black eye. The charges were later dropped.
Michel called "The Frank and Wanda Morning Show" on WVEE-FM in Atlanta the next morning to give his side of the story, claiming Wilkins threw the first punch.
"I went down and said, 'Let's handle this like men, work out a payment plan,'" Michel said. "The next thing I know ... the security guard grabbed me and then [Wilkins] punches me."
In October 2011, Michel sued Wilkins and the Atlanta Spirit LLC, then-owners of the Hawks, and claimed he suffered physical and emotional pain and public humiliation as a result of the incident; Michel said Wilkins repeatedly punched him without provocation. Michel said he also lost his part-time job as a Southeastern Conference basketball referee because of the fight. A conference official told ESPN that Michel's last assignment was a women's nonconference game in December 2010.
After the mutual friend introduced Michel to Blazer, Michel told Blazer -- in a series of phone calls in the fall of 2016 -- that Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person needed money. "In exchange for such money, Person would agree to steer student-athletes to [Auburn's] basketball team to retain [Blazer's] financial advisory and business management services," according to the complaint.
Person, who is Auburn's all-time leading scorer and helped the Tigers reach three straight NCAA tournaments, was the No. 4 pick of the Indiana Pacers in the 1986 NBA draft. He was the 1987 NBA Rookie of the Year and played for five teams from 1986 to 2000, earning more than $23 million in salary. A former assistant in the NBA and Korea, Person joined head coach Bruce Pearl's staff at Auburn in 2014. Person was promoted to associate head coach the next season.
During a telephone call between Michel and Blazer on Sept. 8, 2016, according to the complaint, Michel said he had access to team locker rooms and players, and also boasted about being able to connect Blazer with other coaches. "The good thing about it is," Michel said, "I got all the college coaches right now because, guess what, I'm the one that's with them. I make all their suits.
"The [expletive] basketball guys [get] way more money than these [expletive] football guys," Michel told Blazer. "We can get us [expletive] 10 basketball players in the next five years and we gonna ... have to sit back and do absolutely nothing."
Michel informed Blazer that Person needed a $60,000 loan, and that Auburn was going to have "three or four pros come out a year. [He's] got one or two of them that's gonna be pretty high draft picks." Michel said Person would pay back the money over a 24-month period. During later conversations, Blazer and Michel discussed the loan being forgiven if Person delivered players.
On Nov. 29, 2016, Person and Michel met with Blazer at a restaurant near Auburn's campus. Blazer was wearing a miniature video camera and recording device, and FBI agents monitored the meeting, according to the complaint. During the meeting, Person agreed to accept $50,000 in bribe payments from Blazer.
According to the complaint, Michel explained that Person would receive $5,000 in cash that day and three additional payments of $15,000. Person signed a promissory note and then asked if he could receive $10,000 up front. Blazer agreed to wire him an additional $5,000. Michel sent Blazer the information needed to wire money to Person's bank account, and the money was transferred the next day.
On Dec. 12, Person, Michel and Blazer met with an unidentified Auburn player at a Manhattan hotel room. The Tigers were in New York to play Boston College in the Under Armour Reunion at Madison Square Garden. The meeting was again videotaped by Blazer, and Blazer told the player that he wanted to "make sure you [have] a face to put with the voice and the name or whatever, so ya know, so when we do get together ... you're good with everything."
The player told Blazer that he was good with whatever arrangement Person was comfortable with. "I trust him 100 percent," the player said. During the Dec. 12 meeting, Blazer gave Person approximately $15,000 in cash.
Person told the player: "The most important thing is that you ... don't say nothing to nobody. ... But don't share with your sisters, don't share with any of the teammates, that's very important cause this is a violation ... of rules, but this is how the NBA players get it done. They get early relationships, and they form partnerships, they form trust."
He also warned the player: "Your personality and the way you do things can't change. Don't flaunt the stuff you get and, you know, don't change the way you speak to people, that's very important, too."
According to a phone call that was intercepted by an FBI wiretap on Dec. 17, Person told the unidentified player's mother that her son "is going to be good enough to go first round. I've talked to a bunch of people ... and I want him to leave to play in the NBA." Person told her that he had a financial adviser he wanted her to work with, and that Blazer had worked as his adviser and former Auburn star Charles Barkley's adviser, neither of which was true. Finally, according to the FBI, Person told the player's mother that he wasn't "getting anything" for making the connection.
Person also told the player's mother that Blazer would start giving her $5,000 or so per month, "so that way, you don't have to worry about anything."
On Dec. 18, after the Auburn Tigers recorded a 76-74 home win versus Mercer, Blazer met with the player's mother and stepfather at Person's house. Person explained to them how the arrangement would work and explained that they didn't have to sign anything.
"Your word is good enough for him [Blazer], and your word is good enough for me," Person told them. "When [the player] gets drafted in June, then they'll make a formal signing to be a financial adviser. Now, he is not an agent, so he can't do any contracts. So when [the player] starts getting paid, what percentage of money you're going to send to [Blazer] for him to invest is going to be up to you guys. But [the player] should invest a large portion of it, if not all of it, and, uh, you shouldn't work with more than one financial agent."
Blazer indicated he'd pay the player's parents a few thousand dollars a month for the next four months and gave them $1,000 during the initial meeting. Blazer wired $10,000 to Person's bank account on Dec. 27 and an additional $11,500 on Jan. 10, 2017, according to the FBI.
During a telephone call with Blazer, Person said he was giving Michel a portion of the bribes, but complained that Michel was trying to "double dip." But that's what Person tried to do when he arranged for an unidentified financial adviser in Alabama to meet with a second unnamed Auburn player. The meeting occurred at Person's house in January, and the FBI believed that he "initially intended for the [advisor] and [Blazer] to jointly represent Player-2, so that Person could receive money from both individuals."
When the second adviser told Person that he didn't want to make the proposed payments, Person advised the second player's mother that she should go only with Blazer. She thanked him for "putting the right people around us."
On Jan. 5, Michel met with Blazer at a restaurant in Atlanta and discussed a proposal in which Blazer would pay Michel on a monthly basis to connect Blazer with other coaches who were willing to accept bribes. Blazer paid Michel tens of thousands of dollars from January 2017 to about September, according to the FBI, and Michel helped facilitate the payment of $25,000 to an unidentified staff member of another school. The staff member received $5,000 during an initial meeting and an additional $20,000 in later meetings in New York and Atlanta.
The FBI said Person received a total of $91,500 from Blazer, and Person claimed to have given approximately $11,000 to the first player's mother and $7,500 to the second player's mother. Michel received $49,000 for arranging the meetings with coaches and players' parents.
Person was arrested Tuesday morning and was released on $25,000 bond. Michel was arrested in Charlotte on Tuesday and appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Court Judge David Keesler, who ordered him to appear in New York in two weeks.
Auburn officials suspended Person without pay on Tuesday, and the university said it was "saddened, angry and disappointed" by the news. Auburn officials have hired a Birmingham law firm to investigate the allegations.
Auburn president Steven Leath told ESPN that he received a call Monday night and was advised that an FBI agent wanted to meet with Leath the next morning, without any indication of what the meeting was about. Leath said he wasn't worried, because he assumed it had to do with his security clearance related to certain projects and research work on campus -- not about athletics.
An FBI agent arrived shortly before 8 a.m. on Tuesday. "They told me that as a result of a long, complex investigation, they were going to make arrests and make charges related to NCAA basketball. In fact, they had already arrested one of our assistant coaches earlier that morning," Leath said.
But the university did get some reassuring news later from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which was that the university itself was not the target of the investigation, Leath said.
"I think it says clearly that they don't think there's some structural problem or some broader problem at the university, that this was an isolated individual," he said. "I don't think anybody else knew. I don't think there's any indication at Auburn that anybody else knew about this."
Leath said coaches have identified the two student-athletes referenced in the FBI's investigation, but he would not name them, and he said the school, which has hired an outside law firm to investigate the men's basketball program, will wait for information from that review to determine what further actions, if any, need to be taken.
"It's very disappointing," Leath said. "I think university presidents are always concerned that the tail doesn't wag the dog. And then you see things like this going on under people's noses, and you wonder how it's even possible."
Then, the sneaker company
On June 15, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions announced that it would suspend Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino for five games this coming season, and ordered the Cardinals to vacate all records from December 2010 to June 2014 as a result of an investigation into the program's high-profile escort scandal. According to Louisville, the program would have to forfeit 108 regular-season wins and 15 NCAA tournament victories, including the 2013 national title.
The NCAA accused Pitino, one of the sport's most successful coaches, of failing to monitor former staff member Andre McGee, who allegedly arranged for strip dances or sex acts for three players, 15 recruits and two coaches who were not affiliated with the school at a Louisville dormitory. At the time, Pitino said he was unaware McGee was hosting the parties in the dorm.
"None of us do not feel extreme remorse, regret in everything that went on inside that dormitory," Pitino said at a news conference when the NCAA penalties were announced. "We've said that many, many times. But this is over the top. It's to the point where it's not even conceivable, what I just read.
"We are embarrassed about what went on. We're extremely contrite about what went on. But one person does not determine the worth of what we're about as a program."
On July 10, less than a month after the NCAA penalties were announced and about a month before the university appealed what it called "draconian" sanctions, an unidentified Louisville assistant coach spoke on the telephone with Merl Code, an Adidas employee and a former Clemson basketball player; Munish Sood, a financial adviser from Princeton, New Jersey; and an undercover agent, who was recording the call for the FBI. The men discussed how they were going to mask an initial $25,000 payment from Adidas to the father of a high school player who had recently committed to Louisville, which has a shoe and apparel deal with Adidas.
According to the FBI complaint, James "Jim" Gatto, Adidas' head of global sports marketing who had worked at the company for 24 years, and Christian Dawkins, formerly an agent for ASM Sports who was recently fired for racking up $42,000 in Uber charges on an unnamed NBA player's credit card, and the others had previously agreed to funnel $100,000 to the recruit's father in four payments. Dawkins told the others he was paying the player's father at the request of a Louisville coach.
The player, identified as "Player-10" and described as a top recruit in the complaint, is believed to be Brian Bowen, a five-star guard/forward from La Porte, Indiana, who committed to Louisville on June 5. The FBI said telephone records show Gatto spoke directly with the unnamed Louisville coach multiple times in the days before the player publicly committed to play for the Cardinals.
During the July 10 call, the FBI alleges the men discussed a plan in which the undercover agent and Sood would front the money for the first $25,000 payment because it was going to be difficult to mask the payments through Adidas' accounts payable system. Dawkins assured Sood and the undercover agent that they'd eventually be reimbursed by Adidas. Dawkins told them they were paying the player's family so the player would sign with Dawkins and his fledgling agency, and sign an endorsement deal with Adidas, when he turned pro.
Code, who was Clemson's point guard from 1993 to 1997 and who previously worked as the director of rival Nike's elite youth basketball program, explained why Adidas was paying the player.
"You guys are being introduced to ... how stuff happens with kids and getting into particular schools," Code said during the call. "So this is kind of one of those instances where we needed to step up and help one of our flagship schools in [Louisville], you know, secure a five-star caliber kid. Obviously, that helps, you know, our potential business."
Code further explained that by funneling the payments to players' families through third parties, Adidas "was not engaging in a monetary relationship with an amateur athlete. We're engaging in a monetary relationship with a business manager, and whatever he decides to do with it, that's between him and the family. ... We can't get involved directly in those kinds of situations and scenarios."
On July 11, the undercover agent went to Sood's office, where he gave Sood $25,000 in cash for the player's father, who was flying to New York to receive it. The FBI said Dawkins called the player's father on July 13 and told him that Sood had $19,500 for him, and that Dawkins would take care of "everything else." The next day, Sood confirmed to Dawkins that he'd delivered the money.
After Gatto and Code had problems obtaining the rest of the money from Adidas, Dawkins arranged a meeting with Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of The League Initiative and program director of the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program in Florida. They met at a hotel room in Las Vegas on July 27. The undercover agent, the Louisville assistant and Blazer, the disgraced former financial planner, also were there. Prior to the meeting, the FBI placed video cameras inside the room and recorded the meeting.
During the meeting, Dawkins laid out plans to funnel money to the family of a second player, who was scheduled to graduate from high school in 2019. "The mom is like, 'We need our [expletive] money,'" Dawkins said. "So we got to be able to fund the situation ... We're all working together to get this kid to [Louisville]. Obviously, in turn, the kid will come back to us."
When Dawkins mentioned they'd have to be careful because the Cardinals were already on NCAA probation, the Louisville assistant agreed. "We gotta be very low-key," he said.
The men agreed to funnel the money through Augustine's program, and he promised them that "all my kids will be [Adidas] kids." The undercover agent then handed Augustine an envelope containing $12,700 in cash, according to the FBI, and Dawkins told him that it would cover payments to the second player's family for July and August.
Augustine told the group that he expected Adidas to cover the payments because "no one swings a bigger [expletive] than [an unidentified Louisville coach]" at Adidas, and all the coach had to do "is pick up the phone and call somebody [and say], 'These are my guys, they're taking care of us.'"
After the Louisville assistant left the hotel room, Dawkins and the others discussed the payment plan to the first recruit's family. He said that even though Adidas had agreed to pay him $100,000, a rival athletic apparel company was "coming with a higher number," and he needed to get more money from Adidas to secure the player's commitment to Louisville. Dawkins said he'd spoken to the second unnamed Louisville coach and told him, "I need you to call Jim Gatto, who's the head of everything" at Adidas' basketball program.
After ASM Sports fired Dawkins for improperly using the NBA player's credit card, he was introduced to a second undercover agent, who would help him set up a new sports management company. The undercover agent who initially worked with Dawkins told him that he was travelling out of the country for the next month, but that Blazer and the second undercover agent would be available to meet with coaches and/or players in his absence.
On June 6, Dawkins, Sood, Blazer and an undercover agent met on a boat docked off Manhattan, where they signed a shareholder agreement that had been drafted by Sood to establish the terms of the financing and ownership of Dawkins' new company. Under the agreement, Sood and the undercover agent agreed to give Dawkins $200,000 annually, in four quarterly payments. Dawkins said he'd use half the money for his salary and half the money for travel and expenses. He told the men they probably needed another $100,000 in a separate account to pay bribes to coaches.
"If we take care of everybody and everything is done, we control everything," Dawkins boasted to an undercover agent. "You can make millions off of one kid."
By then, the men were already making monthly payments to Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, who the FBI says accepted at least $22,000 in bribes to steer his players toward Sood and Dawkins. Their relationship started when Evans was an assistant at South Carolina, but he left to join the Cowboys because it was "better players, more, more, more business." The FBI alleges that it also paid $20,000 in bribes to Arizona assistant Emmanuel "Book" Richardson, whom Dawkins introduced to Sood at a tournament in Las Vegas in March, and $13,000 to USC assistant Tony Bland.
On Aug. 16, during a telephone call with the second undercover agent, which was recorded by the FBI, Dawkins said he had been reimbursed for the first $25,000 payment to the first player's family, which was transferred to his "Loyd, Inc." account. In the complaint, the FBI said bank records confirmed a $25,000 deposit on Aug. 1. The check Dawkins deposited was issued from a bank account belonging to an AAU program that was sponsored by Adidas. On the same day, the AAU program's bank account received a $30,000 deposit from an account associated with Adidas, according to the FBI.
Dawkins explained to the second undercover agent that they still had to figure out how to get $2,000 monthly payments to the first player's father, and that Louisville would need to get $5,000 to Augustine by Aug. 25 so he could pass it on to the second player's family.
Dawkins explained that Augustine was an important part of the scheme because he runs a "big-time AAU grassroots program" and had two kids who might be "one-and-dones." Dawkins said Augustine had two more players who were ranked in the top 10 in the country in their respective graduating classes. "Everything that can be put into his nonprofit is a write-off, obviously, a tax deduction," Dawkins told the second undercover agent. "[So] it's not just like a normal payment to a player" and could "be of benefit to everybody across the board."
Dawkins told the undercover agent he was in the process of drafting agreements for the parents they were already paying. "Obviously, we have to put funding out, and obviously some of it can't be completely accounted for on paper because some of it is, whatever you want to call it, illegal," he said.
On Aug. 23, the second undercover agent met with Sood in New York and gave him $20,000, according to the complaint. Sood was supposed to send $5,000 to Augustine so he could begin making monthly payments to the father of the first player.
Two days later, Louisville announced that it had agreed to a 10-year, $160 million extension with Adidas, one of the richest apparel contracts in collegiate sports history -- $7 million more than what any other ACC program is being paid annually. Only Ohio State, Texas and UCLA have more lucrative apparel deals. When UCLA left Adidas for Under Armour in 2016, the Cardinals became Adidas' flagship school in college athletics.
Louisville announced the deal during a pep rally for administrators, coaches, staff members and student-athletes in the academic center at Papa John's Stadium.
"[It's] an unprecedented deal from our university's standpoint and an unprecedented deal for Adidas," athletics director Tom Jurich told the crowd.
With Louisville and its recruits apparently secured, Gatto, Code, Dawkins and Augustine moved on to more pressing concerns -- a second plan to land a recruit they'd been simultaneously scheming about. According to the FBI, they conspired to funnel approximately $150,000 to an unidentified player who was being recruited by the University of Miami. They planned to follow a scheme similar to the one used with the Louisville recruits to keep the player from signing with a school sponsored by a rival apparel company, which they claimed had offered the player $150,000, according to the complaint.
During calls that were intercepted by FBI wiretaps, Gatto asked Code if the payments could be pushed to 2018 because he wasn't sure he could make it work. "I just don't know if I can do anything in '17, that's what I'm saying," Gatto told Code. Gatto then asked Code if the player being recruited by Miami might accept $100,000, which is what they paid the Louisville's recruit. Code said he wasn't sure if his family would take that much less, but he'd try to reduce their offer by $25,000. Code warned Gatto that if they waited until January 2018, the recruit's asking price might be $200,000.
On Aug. 19, Code informed Augustine that Adidas was willing to do what was necessary to help the Hurricanes secure the recruit, but "everything was kind of strapped for '17. So '18 puts us in a better place to have this conversation."
On Tuesday, interim Louisville president Gregory Postel confirmed that the university has received notice that it is included in the federal investigation. "While we are just learning about this information, this is a serious concern that goes to the heart of our athletic department and the university," Postel said. "U of L is committed to ethical behavior and adherence to NCAA rules; any violations will not be tolerated."
In a separate statement, Pitino said he was unaware that one of his assistant coaches was involved in the scheme.
"These allegations come as a complete shock to me," Pitino said. "If true, I agree with the U.S. Attorney's Office that these third-party schemes, initiated by a few bad actors, operated to commit a fraud on the impacted universities and their basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Our fans and supporters deserve better, and I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable."