Filings show potentially critical error in Feds' college hoops corruption case

Yahoo Sports
The Feds’ investigation into corruption in college basketball hit a few snags this week. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
The Feds’ investigation into corruption in college basketball hit a few snags this week. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Lawyers for multiple defendants in the college basketball corruption case filed motions to “suppress communications intercepted” in the case, including wiretaps that yielded information central to the federal government’s case.

The motion details multiple potential procedural breaches that could taint important evidence. But the most glaring comes from a claim of “a failure to identify the authorizing justice official” in the paperwork to obtain a wiretap.

According to the filing, the government’s paperwork to authorize an initial wiretap on Munish Sood, one of the defendants, says: “the Application has been authorized by [FILL IN], Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.”

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

According to the filings, failing to fill in that section could result in a breach that could potentially make it invalid.

The filings go on to claim a “lack of probable cause to search and seize the defendants’ cell phones,” “overboard warrants” that fail to limit the scope of searches and an improper interrogation technique on Adidas executive Jim Gatto that led to the federal government obtaining the passcode for his phone.

The most potentially significant claim, however, is the lack of a name being filled in the paperwork on the Sood wiretap on April 7, 2017. Federal investigators were targeting Sood, a financier, according to the paperwork, to track communications with Christian Dawkins, a middleman who was connecting Sood and others with high-profile players. (Sood was arrested but has not been indicted in the case, as it’s widely believed he’s cooperating with the federal government.)

This blank space in the wiretap paperwork could be problematic for the federal government. The filing goes on to cite a case – United States vs. Scurry – where asterisks were used in place of the authorizing official. A D.C. Circuit Court ruled “a wiretap order is insufficient on its face where it fails to identify the Justice Department official who approved the underlying application.”

It’s unknown whether that ruling directly translates here, but the motion is clearly an effort to suppress key information.

“We will aggressively defend this case on all legal and factual fronts,” said Steve Haney, Dawkins’ lawyer.

If a similar finding happens here, the information yielded from the wiretap would be significant, as it could create a domino effect that would make subsequent wiretaps invalid.

The motions on Friday also generally attempted to dismiss the techniques used to obtain information. One is filed by Dawkins’ lawyer, which claims “derivative evidence” should also be suppressed.

Another motion, filled by the lawyers for Adidas executive Merl Code, Gatto and Dawkins, question the government’s warrant applications. If those are faulty, the filing claims further evidence could be considered “fruits of the poisonous tree.” That means that if the wiretaps were obtained under flawed circumstances, all subsequent wiretaps could be compromised as well because they were acquired through faulty means.

One of the motions also asks for Dawkins to receive the transcript of the grand jury proceedings against him because he believes that the decision to indict him “was based substantially on communications” from the wiretap in question.

Dawkins is a central figure in one of the three cases that resulted from the federal investigation into the underbelly of basketball that’s lasted nearly three years. He faces up to 200 years for charges that include bribery, wire fraud and money laundering.

This is the second challenge to the government’s case this week that’s centered on an embarrassing allegation. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that one of the undercover FBI agents in the case is under investigation for “misappropriating government money on gambling, food and beverages.”

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