College basketball corruption trial verdict: All 3 defendants found guilty

Dan WetzelColumnist

A federal jury in New York found all three defendants guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the closely watched college basketball trial.

After nearly 20 hours of deliberation across three days, the jury of eight women and four men declared Adidas executives Jim Gatto and Merl Code, as well as aspiring sports agent and basketball middleman Christian Dawkins, guilty after they paid the family of a top recruit to attend the University of Louisville.

Gatto was found guilty of an additional charge involving the recruitment of athletes to the University of Kansas.

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The verdict was announced around 2:45 p.m. in the Moynihan federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan.

All three men will likely appeal the verdict and are free following the verdict.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 5 in New York and falls to Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who presided over the case. Although they technically face many years in prison, experts expect Gatto to get up to seven years in prison, with Code and Dawkins around three.

The feds’ first trial against college hoops corruption concluded Wednesday. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
The feds’ first trial against college hoops corruption concluded Wednesday. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

The verdict is a major victory for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, which took a three-year FBI investigation ripe with wire-tapped phone calls, secretly video-taped meetings and two undercover agents to make the violation of NCAA rules into a federal case.

The government convinced the jury that when the men paid the families of recruits to attend specific colleges, they were rendering those athletes ineligible per NCAA rules. As such, the schools were unwittingly signing and playing players that exposed them to NCAA sanctions. Because the schools receive federal funding, this became a federal fraud case.

The defendants offered an impassioned counter-argument during the three-week trial that by directing top talent to college teams they were trying to help, not harm, the universities. They also tried to present to the jury the underworld of college basketball where head and assistant coaches seek out the help of shoe companies and runners to help with recruiting, and even if payments aren’t directly discussed they are assumed.

The jury, which knew little about college basketball before the trial, agreed with the government and lead prosecutor, assistant U.S. attorney Ted Diskant.

Two additional trials in the case remain. In February, former NBA great and Auburn assistant Chuck Person stands trial for his dealings with Code and Dawkins. Three additional former college assistants, Emanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona), Tony Bland (USC) and Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), are scheduled for April, just after the Final Four.

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