Defendant’s Lawyer: “NCAA Rules Were Broken, but NCAA Rules Are Not Laws”

    NEW YORK – College basketball’s first bribery and corruption trial began in earnest on Tuesday afternoon with the government using its opening statement

    October 2, 2018

    NEW YORK – College basketball’s first bribery and corruption trial began in earnest on Tuesday afternoon with the government using its opening statement to maintain that a former adidas executive, an ex-adidas consultant and a runner for a well-known sports agent all worked together to defraud several universities. The defendants’ lawyers quickly countered that while their clients may have committed NCAA violations, it wasn’t against the law and they were actually helping the schools.

    “NCAA rules were broken,” Casey Donnelly, one of defendant Jim Gatto’s lawyers, told the jurors before comparing the NCAA to an after-school soccer program. “NCAA rules are not laws. The NCAA is not the U.S. Congress.”

    An assistant U.S. attorney spoke to the dozen jurors and six alternates for about 35 minutes about how the three men on trial – former adidas executive Jim Gatto, ex-adidas consultant Merl Code and “runner” Christian Dawkins – were guilty of breaking a fundamental rule of college basketball: Scheming to pay players, thus knowingly making them ineligible to play college basketball and defrauding four different universities.

    All three have pleaded “not guilty” to the charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in alleged payments to the families of six student-athletes. The payments include giving $20,000 of an expected $100,000 to Brian Bowen Sr. in exchange that his son, Brian “Tugs” Bowen Jr., attended Louisville, which is an adidas school.

    Donnelly said Gatto agreed for adidas to pay Bowen $100,000 in order to help secure the talented forward to Louisville, but that Oregon offered an “astronomical” amount of money if Bowen attended Oregon, which is a Nike school.

    One of the assistant U.S. attorneys claimed that Dawkins had been giving money to Brian Bowen Sr. for years, but Dawkins’ attorney Steve Haney told the jurors that there was a pre-existing relationship that dated back to before Bowen Jr. was a teenager.

    Dawkins, who worked for former NBA agent Andy Miller, had a chance to accept a written deal from the government, but declined. Gatto and Code had discussions but also opted to go to trial.

    “The reason why we’re here is because the defendants caused universities to give scholarships based on fraudulent information,” one of the U.S. attorneys said in his opening statement, referring to the fact that paying the players made them ineligible, per NCAA rules.

    “They need to show that he committed a crime, not just broke a rule,” Donnelly later added of the government. “Jim (Gatto) wasn’t trying to defraud these universities. He was trying to help them.”

    That’s ultimately the key here: whether the 12 jurors will believe that this is worthy of a federal crime and punishable by jail time. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the coming month or so, but it’s expected that Brian Bowen Sr. – who entered a non-prosecution agreement for testifying – will be called as a witness in the coming days as well as financial advisor Munish Sood, who was one of those arrested, but has worked out a deal with the government. T.J. Gassnola, who ran an adidas AAU team and helped Gatto, is also expected to be called in the coming weeks to testify.

    Former NBA player and Auburn assistant Chuck Person and clothing company founder Rashan Michel will go on trial in early February, and the three college basketball assistants – Emanuel “Book” Richardson, Tony Bland and Lamont Evans – have a trial date set for April 22.

    This trial, which began with jury selection on Monday, is expected to last about a month in lower Manhattan with veteran Judge Lewis A. Kaplan presiding.

    The most entertaining portion of the day came early on when Donnelly and her co-counsel were admonished by Kaplan for using a Power Point presentation that hadn’t been cleared by him or opposing counsel. Donnelly was using the presentation to illustrate some of her points, including how much money schools such as Kansas and Louisville earned last year from their men’s basketball programs. Kaplan was unaware of the Power Point because he didn’t have his monitor set to watch the feed that was showing to both the jurors and also the lawyers.

    Kaplan then ordered the jurors to leave the courtroom after telling them to disregard everything they had seen on the visual presentation.

    “This type of behavior is inappropriate, deceptive and unprofessional,” Kaplan said to Gatto’s lawyers.

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