For months Christian Dawkins argued with would-be investors in his fledgling sports marketing agency that it made no sense to bribe college basketball coaches to encourage their star players to sign with the firm.
Dawkins, a young, ambitious, basketball middleman, kept telling a supposed real estate tycoon named “Jeff D’Angelo” that coaches didn’t have that kind of influence and it would be better to pay the players, their families or their travel team coaches directly. This plan, which was set to occur through a series of meetings during a 2017 recruiting tournament in Las Vegas, lacked “common sense.”
“If you just want to be Santa Claus and just give people money, well [expletive], let’s just take the money to the strip club and just pay for hookers,” Dawkins told D’Angelo on a government-recorded call played at his federal bribery trial in 2019.
D’Angelo, who was actually an undercover FBI agent, was adamant though: Set up the meeting with the college coaches. So Dawkins, desperate for funding, did.
The meeting, at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, saw a parade of assistant coaches come through a luxury suite and take money under the guise they would steer players to Dawkins’ firm.
Bank records presented by the defense at trial, however, showed many of the coaches, who were mostly friends of Dawkins, actually gave the money back to him after the meeting.
As a point in how absurd the entire case was, Dawkins testified he deposited most of the money back into his company’s account so later he could use it to pay the prospects directly. Further, some of the coaches didn’t even have NBA-caliber talent on their team — in the case of Creighton University, Dawkins made up the name of a prospect.
“We’re just going to take these fools’ money,” Dawkins told co-defendant Merl Code, a then-consultant for Adidas, on a wiretapped call.
It was a setup to the setup.
The FBI and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York saw it differently. The meeting in Las Vegas was central to charges being leveled — along with a separate fraud case — on 10 men, all of whom either pleaded guilty or were found guilty at trial. Additional college coaches saw their careers end.
Dawkins, now 28 years old, is set to begin an 18-month federal prison sentence in Alabama on Tuesday. Co-defendants’ Merl Code and Jim Gatto, also an Adidas executive, are already serving one-year and nine-month sentences, respectively. Former Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson has already completed a three-month stint.
FBI under fire
Dawkins, however, in a final-hour motion, is now seeking a new trial after federal prosecutors in Las Vegas announced a criminal conviction late last week involving one of the undercover agents in the bribery case and the casino meeting.
FBI special agent Scott Carpenter pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of conversion of government money. Carpenter took $13,500 that was supposed to be used during the Vegas operation and instead gambled it away in a high-limit room of a casino.
During Dawkins' and Code's trial, defense attorneys were not told of the details of Carpenter’s crime. They were also not allowed to question him, even in evidentiary hearing without the jury being present.
U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos repeatedly ruled in favor of prosecutors who sought to keep Carpenter and three additional FBI agents in the case who also had been disciplined for undisclosed misconduct out of the trial. The government said the incidents were unrelated to “any aspect of the investigation,” according to Dawkins' court filing.
Dawkins, through Michigan-based attorney Steve Haney, is arguing that the misuse of the very funds involved in the meeting and the overall actions of four of the five undercover agents who worked the case are very much related though. As such, Dawkins should have been able to explore the full extent of their misconduct and a jury should have been aware of it.
The government has not yet responded to Dawkins’ motion. The initial case against Dawkins was not a particularly strong one by SDNY standards. Dawkins was found not guilty on four of the six charges against him.
“It is more than reasonable to assume that had the Jury been availed with the newly discovered information/evidence … that same jury who acquitted Christian Dawkins on most of the charges against him would have found him not guilty on the remaining two felony charges,” Dawkins motion stated.
The motion, filed to Ramos, is blistering and is the latest development in one of the strangest sports legal cases in recent memory.
The trappings of Sin City
It began when a financial advisor named Marty Blazer, who was found to have misappropriated over $2 million of his client’s money, was able to convince the FBI he would help them uncover fraud in college basketball. That started a massive three-year investigation that, rather than crack the sport open, yielded just low-level coaches and mostly obscure grassroots basketball middlemen.
Blazer, who stole money, avoided prison, while Dawkins and others who gave money away, were sentenced.
Now, it turns out at least one of the undercover agents was also stealing money. Yet Carpenter was given just a misdemeanor (and will likely avoid prison time at a May sentencing hearing) while most of the defendants were hit with felonies despite being involved with lower sums of money.
Former USC assistant coach Tony Bland, for example, accepted just $4,100 at the Las Vegas meeting (and alleges he gave most of it back to Dawkins), yet caught a felony conviction.
And the defense still doesn’t know what three other FBI agents who acted “improperly” according to the government, did. Are more convictions coming?
“The trappings of Sin City were too much to handle for a number of federally employed case agents,” Dawkins’ appeal states. “In fact … 80 percent of the case agents assigned to the infamous college basketball bribery case had either committed crimes, or acted, by the Government’s loose definition, ‘improperly’ …
“Yet the Government blatantly concealed from the jury the fact that its investigative team didn’t just violate FBI rules, but also committed crimes, while arguing their criminal conduct was somehow irrelevant.”
Any chance for a new trial seems slim, but there are reasonable questions about the FBI’s behavior here.
For starters, Dawkins' motion questions whether this is the first time Carpenter has acted in this manner.
“One can only fathom the psychology of an FBI Agent taking government money, during the middle of an undercover FBI investigation … walking into a casino’s high-limit room replete with surveillance video, and gambling $13,500,” Dawkins motion argues. “... To presume such degeneracy would be limited to one reckless act of brazen thievery is borderline preposterous.”
Dawkins, in the dwindling hours of his freedom, would like to know if there is more to it and allow a new jury to know what is now known about Agent Carpenter.
It’s up to Judge Ramos to provide that opportunity.