Trial in College Basketball FBI Corruption Scandal Underway

    Rick Pitino, Bill Self, and Jim Larranaga among several high-profile names prosecutors told jurors to expect to hear about during trial. NEW YORK – A

    October 1, 2018

    Rick Pitino, Bill Self, and Jim Larranaga among several high-profile names prosecutors told jurors to expect to hear about during trial.

    NEW YORK – A little more than a year ago, the thought of a couple of ex-adidas employees and a low-level runner for a prominent NBA agent sitting in a courtroom overlooking the New York City skyline, worried about avoiding prison time as jurors were selected for an upcoming trial that could envelope several prominent college basketball college seemed beyond preposterous.

    Yet here they were — Jim Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins — on the 26th and top floor of the Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan as the first to go on trial for college basketball’s bribery and corruption scandal. All three are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and face significant jail time for their roles in alleged payments to the families of six student-athletes.

    Many are still baffled as to why the FBI opted to get involved, and many are miffed that it has gotten this far. For all the attention the arrests received on Feb. 26, 2017, it’s been extremely quiet.

    But that is likely to change in the coming days and weeks.

    The trio of defendants didn’t opt to work out a deal instead of taking this to trial. Dawkins had a written deal on the table, while there were conversations with Gatto and Code. All three entered a not guilty plea and will now have their futures resting in the hands of 12 jurors.

    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 of April 22.

    But on Monday morning it was Gatto, in his light tan suit, next to his attorneys. One row in front of him was Code, in a grey suit represented by former federal prosecutor Mark Moore and Merl F. Code, who just happens to be a former court judge and Code’s father. Dawkins, 26, walked into the room at 9:25 a.m., wearing a white button-down shirt and black-rimmed glasses — looking young enough to pass for a college student.

    There wasn’t much in terms of fireworks — at least not on the first day. This was reserved for jury selection, as 50 potential jurors were brought in during the morning session, and asked a litany of questions by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who has been a federal judge for the Southern District of New York for more than two decades.

    Kaplan said he was hopeful that the trial wouldn’t last a month, despite the time frame the attorneys had anticipated.

    “Usually, it takes less time than the lawyers think,” Kaplan half-joked.

    As Kaplan peppered the potential jurors with questions to ultimately trim the group to a dozen plus six alternates, Dawkins often turned around to make eye contact while Gatto and Code were primarily focused on looking directly ahead at Kaplan.

    Of the jurors brought forward in the first group, it was surprising that just a pair stood up when Kaplan asked whether any had read or seen anything about the case.

    The most interesting aspect of the day came when a 30-something assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Diskant, the lead prosecutor in the case, was asked by Kaplan to read off the names of all potential witnesses in the case to make certain jurors didn’t have any relationship or any information in which they felt would disqualify them from being objective and serving as a juror.

    The list included Brian Bowen Sr., Brad Augustine — who was one of the 10 men arrested on Oct. 26, 2017 — and current Louisville Athletic Director Vince Tyra.

    Then Diskant rattled off more than 100 names of those whose names could potentially come up within the trial. Hall of Fame coaches Rick Pitino and Bill Self were mentioned, so were Jim Larranaga, Will Wade, Mark Gottfried, former players Markelle Fultz, Deandre Ayton, Dennis Smith Jr., Billy Preston and even current college freshmen Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford. Then came the list of schools/entities that could come up and it included shoe companies adidas, Nike and Under Armour as well as Louisville, Kansas, N.C. State, Miami, Arizona, Oklahoma State, USC, Texas, Creighton, Oregon, LSU and DePaul.

    No one knows exactly what to expect as the trial is set to begin in earnest on Tuesday, especially after looking at the stacked nine white boxes labeled “government trial exhibits” that sat in the corner of the back of the courtroom.

    Gatto, Code and Dawkins are worried about staying out of jail — and there are plenty of college coaches throughout the country concerned about their fates as well.


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