Madness Comes Early for NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball
Written By Christina Graziadei
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball world got an early dose of madness this year. On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, the FBI made ten arrests, including four NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches.
- Chuck Person – associate coach at Auburn University
- Lamont Evans – associate head coach at Oklahoma State University
- Emanuel “Book” Richardson – assistant coach at University of Arizona
- Anthony “Tony” Bland – associate coach at University of Southern California
These four coaches were arrested in connection with two related fraud and corruption schemes, and they have been charged with wire fraud, bribery, travel act, and conspiracy offenses. These charges prime each coach with up to eighty years imprisonment. In addition to these individuals’ criminal charges, the schemes open each coach’s respective university up to serious potential NCAA consequences, including fines, penalties, and the loss of eligibility to compete in NCAA events.
The FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York have been investigating the criminal influence of money on student-athletes and coaches in NCAA men’s basketball for two years. During this investigation, two related schemes were uncovered: the “Coach Bribery Scheme” and the “Company-1” scheme.
The “Coach Bribery Scheme” involves advisors of athletes, who allegedly bribed assistant and associate head basketball coaches. Sometimes, with the facilitation of the coaches, the bribes were paid directly to the student-athlete. As part of the scheme, the coaches agreed to convince student-athletes to retain the services of the bribe-payors once the athletes began their professional careers in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The “Company-1 Scheme” involved advisors of athletes working with high-level “Company-1” employees, who allegedly bribed current and prospective student-athletes and their families, in exchange for a commitment by the athletes to attend a specific university sponsored by “Company-1.” There was also a further promise to sign agreements to be represented by the bribe-payors once the student-athletes began their professional careers in the NBA.
Allegations Against Coaches
Specifically, it is alleged that Person (Auburn University) solicited over $90,000 in bribe payments from a financial advisor and business manager for professional athletes, whom he did not know was providing information to law enforcement. Person facilitated several meetings between this advisor and players and/or their families, but he did not disclose to the players that he was being bribed to recommend the advisor. It is further alleged that Person gave over $18,000 of the bribe money that he received to the families of two student-athletes that he encouraged to retain the advisor.
Similarly, Evans (Oklahoma State University) solicited at least $22,000 from the same advisor/informant, in addition to another advisor, in exchange for his agreement to steer some of his players at two NCAA Division I universities toward retaining the advisors when their professional careers began.
The complaint further alleges that Richardson (University of Arizona), received about $20,000 in bribes from the same advisor/informant, as wells as two undercover law enforcement agents posing as the advisor’s financial backers, for his promise to convince his players to retain the services of certain advisors. It is also believed that Richardson provided some bribery money to at least one high school basketball player in exchange for his commitment to attend and play for his university.
With respect to Bland (University of Southern California), it is alleged that he paid or arranged the payment of at least $13,000 in bribes, in exchange for his agreement to steer some of his student-athletes to retain certain business managers once they began their professional career. It is further alleged that Bland paid or facilitated the payment of $9,000 to the families of two student-athletes in return for setting up a meeting between the family member of the player and certain business managers to convince the player to retain their services.
What Comes Next
According to the criminal complaints filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the four coaches were charged under six sections of Title 18 of the United States Code, namely, section 371 (Conspiracy to Commit Offense or to Defraud the United States), section 666 (Theft or Bribery Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds), section 1343 (Fraud by Wire, Radio, or Television), section 1346 (Definition of “Scheme or Article to Defraud”), section 1349 (Attempt and Conspiracy), and section 2 (Principals).
In more recent news, the government has brought these sorts of charges and allegations against politicians who abuse their position for personal gain. However, 18 U.S.C. § 666, the federal program bribery statute, effectively turns persons working at private universities into public employees. Consequently, it is a crime for officials of any organization or agency that receives benefits in excess of $10,000 under a Federal program to accept anything of value “intending to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business, transaction or series of transactions” of the organization employing them. Additionally, under the honest services fraud statute (18 U.S.C. § 1346), schemes to defraud include those which deprive “another of the intangible right of honest services.” It is alleged that these coaches violated this statute by profiting off of NCAA violations at the expense of their respective universities.
This complex investigation has the potential to become even more involved, with more schools being watched, and the FBI setting up a special telephone number to receive tips on other violations. While the start of the season right around the corner and future of some programs uncertain, one thing is for sure: NCAA Division I men’s basketball is in for a little extra madness this year.
Complaint, United States v. Evans, Richardson, and Bland, Sep. 25, 2017.
Complaint, United States v. Person and Michel, Sep. 25, 2017.
Peter J. Henning, Taking a New Strategy to Court in N.C.A.A. Case, N.Y. Times, Oct. 4, 2017.
Press Release, U.S. Att’y Office S.D.N.Y., U.S. Attorney Announces the Arrest of 10 Individuals Including Four Division I Coaches, For College Basketball Fraud and Corruption Schemes (Sep. 26, 2017).
Photo courtesy of NCAA.