NEW YORK -- Attorneys for the defendants in a federal criminal case involving pay-for-play schemes and other corruption in college basketball attempted on Tuesday to introduce into evidence wiretap recordings that, according to the attorneys, suggested LSU coach Will Wade and Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend were prepared to offer improper benefits to high-profile recruits and their families.
In a Tuesday morning hearing with U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, Mark Moore, one of defendant Merl Code's attorneys, unsuccessfully tried to introduce a recording of a telephone conversation between Townsend and Code. Moore told Kaplan that Zion Williamson of Spartanburg, South Carolina, the No. 2 player in the 2018 ESPN 100, was the subject of the call.
The recording wasn't played in the courtroom on the 26th floor of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan, but Moore read from a transcript of the call while arguing the defense's position to Kaplan without the jury present.
"Hey, but between me and you, you know, he asked about some stuff, you know?" Townsend said, according to Moore. "And I said, 'Well, we'll talk about that (when) you decide.'"
And then Code said: "I know what he's asking for. This is the player's father. He's asking for opportunities from an occupational (perspective). He's asking for money in the pocket. And he's asking for housing for him and the family."
Townsend replied: "So, I've got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that's what it takes to get him for 10 months, we're going to have to do it some way."
Williamson committed to play for Duke on Jan. 20, after also considering Clemson, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. The Blue Devils signed the top three players in the 2018 ESPN 100 -- No. 1-ranked prospect RJ Barrett of Canada, No. 2 Williamson and No. 3 Cam Reddish of Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Also on Tuesday, Casey Donnelly, one of Adidas executive Jim Gatto's attorneys, tried to introduce a wiretap recording of a telephone call between Wade and defendant Christian Dawkins, a former runner for NBA agent Andy Miller.
Donnelly did not provide a date of the call; the FBI monitored one of Dawkins' cellphones between June 19, 2017, and Sept. 15, 2017, according to court records.
According to the transcript that Donnelly read, Dawkins called Wade and inquired about LSU's interest in 2019 recruit Balsa Koprivica, a 7-foot center from Montverde, Florida.
"So you said to me in Atlanta there was a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit, they can get him to LSU, you would have funded," Dawkins told Wade, according to Donnelly. "Would you want Balsa?"
"Oh, the big kid?" Wade asked.
"Yeah," Dawkins confirmed.
"OK. But there's other (expletive) involved in it," Wade said. "I have got to shut my door ... Here's my thing: I can get you what you need, but it's got to work."
On June 21, 2017, Koprivica tweeted: "Blessed to say I have received an offer from LSU."
Koprivica, the son of former Serbian pro player Slavisa Koprivica, was born in Belgrade and moved to the U.S. with his mother in 2015. He is ranked 42nd in the 2019 ESPN Top 100. He had been considering Gonzaga, Baylor and Florida State, among other schools. Sources told ESPN that Koprivica might sit out the 2019 season after graduating from high school and then enter the 2020 NBA draft.
Wade, 35, went 18-15 in his first season at LSU, after previously coaching at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth. The Tigers signed the No. 5 recruiting class in the country this year, according to ESPN Recruiting, landing four of the top 53 players in the ESPN 100.
"This call is evidence that Division I coaches do make these offers to Christian," Donnelly told Kaplan.
Kaplan wouldn't allow the call into evidence, and it wasn't played to the jury.
Code, Dawkins and Gatto are charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by funneling money from Adidas to the families of high-profile recruits. The government alleges the money was paid to ensure the players signed with Kansas, Louisville, Miami and NC State -- all Adidas-sponsored schools -- and the sneaker company once they turned pro. Each of the three defendants pleaded not guilty.
The government on Tuesday afternoon closed its case, which lasted more than six days; and the three defendants' cases lasted less than 30 minutes combined, without calling a single witness. Closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon.
During Monday's testimony, text messages between former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola, Kansas coach Bill Self and Townsend presented by defense attorneys indicated the coaches were at least aware of Gassnola's involvement in the Jayhawks' recruitment of current player Silvio De Sousa, a native of Angola.
Gassnola, a former AAU director from Springfield, Massachusetts, testified last week that he paid $89,000 to former Kansas player Billy Preston's mother and that he also agreed to pay $20,000 to De Sousa's guardian, Fenny Falmagne, to help him "get out from under" a pay-for-play scheme to send De Sousa to Maryland.
In April, Gassnola pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in the alleged pay-for-play schemes. He faces 20 years in prison. He testified as part of his cooperation agreement with the government.
Gassnola testified that Townsend and Self weren't aware of the payments he made to players' families.
"Mr. Gassnola testified that he did not believe that Townsend knew anything about payment to players or Coach Self knew anything about payment to players, and that wasn't part of his understanding when he made payments to players in Kansas," Moore told Kaplan. "Well, my client's understanding is different. My client's understanding is that the coaches want these payments to be done.
"This call references a discussion with Kurtis Townsend at Kansas, which confirms my client's belief."
NCAA president Mark Emmert told USA Today that the organization is very aware of the daily developments in the trial.
"We're tracking it very closely and obviously very, very interested in it," Emmert said. "Doing everything to cooperate with the federal investigators so that we don't in any way hinder them and as the opportunity arises, as the trials move forward, we'll begin our work. But for now, we're watching and staying in close contact.
"We know fully what's going on in the courtroom at all times."