In one of the biggest crackdowns on the corrupting role of money in college basketball, 10 men — including a top Adidas executive and four assistant coaches — were charged Tuesday with using hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to influence star athletes’ choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents, even tailors.
Some of the most explosive allegations appeared to involve Louisville, one of college basketball’s biggest powerhouses, which is already on NCAA probation over a sex scandal.
Federal prosecutors said at least three top high school recruits were promised payments of as much as $150,000, using money supplied by Adidas, to attend two universities sponsored by the athletic shoe company. Court papers didn’t name the schools but contained enough details to identify them as Louisville and Miami.
“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one,” said acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim, adding that the defendants were “circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes” and exploited them to enrich themselves.
Prosecutors said that while some of the bribe money went to athletes and their families, some went to coaches, to get them to use their influence over their potentially NBA-bound players.
The coaches charged are Chuck Person of Auburn, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, Tony Bland of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State. Person and Evans were suspended, and Bland was placed on administrative leave.
Bland appeared in court in Tampa, Florida, wearing handcuffs and ankle chains. He said little during a brief hearing other than to answer the judge’s questions and did not enter a plea.
Richardson appeared in court in Tucson, Arizona, where he was set for release on $50,000 bond. His lawyer declined to comment.
Those charged also include James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas; Rashan Michel, a maker of custom suits for some of the NBA’s biggest stars; and various financial advisers and managers.
NCAA President Mark Emmert condemned the alleged misconduct, saying, “Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust.”
Since 2015, the FBI has been investigating the influence of money on coaches and players in the NCAA. Kim noted a special FBI hotline was set up and asked anyone aware of additional corruption to come forward.