The most dangerous man in college basketball is a 32-year-old former NAIA player turned workout guru, turned AAU powerbroker, turned, perhaps, cooperating witness for the FBI.
Brad Augustine was trying to build a basketball career the last few years, mainly by building up the 1-Family AAU program out of his native Orlando, Florida. It was quickly stocked with Division I talent and even a couple of five-star recruits. Sponsorship switched and grew from Under Armor to Adidas. Augustine became known across the sport, from players and parents in the Southeast, to coaches and sports agents across the country.
“Aggressive,” said one college basketball assistant coach about Augustine. “A mover and a shaker,” said another.
It ended on a late September morning when he was arrested along with nine other men after a three-year FBI investigation into fraud and bribery within college basketball, namely shuttling top high school prospects through the NCAA and into the NBA. He stepped down from his position with the program days later.
Eight of those 10 men were indicted last week by a federal grand jury and are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in New York.
The other two, financial planner Munish Sood and Augustine, were not. Instead they saw their names stripped out of the indictments of the other defendants, which has placed them under suspicion by attorneys for already agreeing to flip for the feds.
“The absence of Sood and Augustine is not a mistake,” said one defense attorney involved in the case, suggesting the feds are applying pressure by making sure the other defendants assume the two are cooperating.
The attorneys for Augustine and Sood did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Sports.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the FBI have made no secret they are looking to expand the case to additional coaches, agents and executives. To do that, they need more accusations, more leads and more evidence.
For the heavily regulated industry of college basketball though, this goes beyond possible federal offenses. The specter of strict NCAA statutes looms. Cheating, in big or, more often, small ways, is a long-established part of the culture in college recruiting. A lack of cooperating witnesses, subpoena power or general investigative prowess has long caused the NCAA to struggle to enforce its rules and catch violators.
Now though, the FBI may have the cooperation of a connected head of a prominent regional AAU program – a person who, seeking leniency, is potentially armed with details, evidence or even just leads of college programs perhaps breaking federal laws, but more likely NCAA rules.
“When a defendant agrees to cooperate with the FBI, they have to be completely honest,” said Gabriel L. Grasso, a prominent federal criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas, about the process of cooperating with authorities. “It’s a five-year felony if you lie to a federal agent and they’ll know quickly if you are lying. They can ask you about anything, not just what you are charged with. There is no limit. Then they can use that to investigate further. Once you agree to cooperate, you are basically an agent for a federal prosecution.”
That leaves college basketball with a single, sensational point of gossip – if Augustine is indeed talking to the feds (and thus the NCAA), then what, and whom, is he talking about?
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The four college assistant coaches who were indicted are suspected of accepting payment from agents and financial planners. The plot was simple. The assistants would use the trust they’d built up with NBA-bound players and their families to steer those players toward specific agents and financial planners. The shoe company Adidas was also involved, so two of its executives were picked up.
Defense attorneys argue this may not even be illegal. Regardless, college coaches say the practice of receiving kickbacks from agents is believed to be rare. It’s why Munish Sood, who is alleged to have funded some of the payouts, isn’t seen as a widespread concern in college basketball because he’s believed to have contact with a limited number of coaches and programs.
Augustine is different. While 1-Family was relatively new, dozens of schools of all sizes recruited it. That meant speaking with and dealing with Augustine. A review of 1-Family’s Twitter feed leading up to the bombshell federal complaint shows that Augustine was in close contact with many high-powered college programs as a recruiting conduit between them and his players. In a two-week stretch in September, there were tweets about visits from former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, UCLA coach Steve Alford, Baylor coach Scott Drew, and assistants from Georgia Tech, Arizona, Florida and Tennessee.
Both Augustine and the now-indicted Christian Dawkins, a one-time AAU coach who worked with sports agents, accompanied top prospect Balsa Koprivica on his official recruiting visit to Louisville on Sept. 16. Koprivica is a Serbian 7-footer currently living in Central Florida who is considered one of the top prospects in the Class of 2019. Meanwhile, multiple 1-Family players made an unofficial recruiting visit to Florida State on Sept. 23.
Some or even all of those recruitments may have been by the book. Talking to Augustine is not against the rules. Yet, some may have not. Even then, what many in college basketball would consider a “clean” recruitment (say the absence of a sensational five- or six-figure payment) can still feature numerous NCAA violations. A dinner bought for a recruit’s family. Gas money for a campus visit. Extra gear provided for free. A plane ticket so a mom can come along on a recruiting trip.
“I don’t even know all the rules, but they all get broken,” one AAU coach from the Northeast told Yahoo Sports on the condition he wouldn’t be named. “Assistants are always paranoid, ‘Don’t mention this, don’t tell about this.’ I’m like, ‘That isn’t getting you the player anyway.'”
College assistants say that Augustine was a point person for recruiting 1-Family players. Calls and plans went through him, in addition to families. Assistant coaches say he wanted them to think he had influence over his kids, even if he may not have.
“He was facilitating,” one ACC assistant coach who recruited the program told Yahoo Sports. “He’s involved. He never had his hand out with us, but he was trying to be involved.”
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As such, Augustine may have stories to tell, some of them capable of ending careers even if it doesn’t reach anywhere close to federal charges. That’s what also has many keeping an eye on indicted Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code, both of whom might know where bodies are buried at a host of schools. As of now, however, neither appears to have struck a deal with authorities.
The most prominent name caught up in the scandal thus far isn’t any of the arrested men, but Pitino, who has not been charged with any crimes. Louisville fired him though after an alleged plot for Adidas to send $100,000 to a top recruit to sign with the Cardinals appeared in one of the original charging complaints. Pitino has denied any knowledge of it.
Augustine is involved in another allegation that centered on Louisville. The feds allege that Augustine was part of an agreement to facilitate payments to the family of Koprivica, in exchange for Koprivica signing with Louisville.
The feds also allege that Augustine agreed to conspire with others to steer another 1-Family player to Miami (which, like Louisville, is an Adidas-sponsored school). In exchange for $150,000, the player was then expected to be steered to Dawkins as a client when the player went to the NBA.
But beyond the big-figure allegations, Augustine could cause headaches for schools.
“Say an AAU coach is simply reimbursed with cash for travel expenses for bringing prospects on campus for unofficial visits,” said Stu Brown, an attorney in Atlanta who specializes in representing colleges and coaches in compliance and infraction issues. “That’s something that if it happened more than once at a single campus, the enforcement staff and possibly the Committee on Infractions could view it as a pattern designed to create a competitive advantage.
“That’s not very exciting to the U.S. Attorney’s office, but it’s exciting to the NCAA enforcement staff,” Brown continued.
It may not be just a random assistant in trouble. New NCAA rules have made head coaches responsible for the actions of their staffs.
“Any coach who has written on past NCAA certification forms that they know of no rules violations is on the hook,” Brown said. “Then you have potential termination for cause.”
Augustine could have first-hand knowledge of that sort of violation, which is rampant in the sport, assistants say. Or more.
He isn’t the ideal AAU coach to flip because his program is in its first few years of existence, so he wasn’t front and center to dozens of recruiting battles over the years. Also, 1-Family was a regional program. It was based in Orlando, but featured players from as far away as Savannah, Georgia, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They would mostly convene for weekend tournaments, limiting Augustine’s daily access to the players the way a coach in, say, Brooklyn or Chicago might have – picking kids up at school, sharing meals almost every night, serving as a de facto parental figure, etc.
Augustine was known as someone who talked a lot though, and to a lot of people. He was relentless in promoting the program and himself. While he may only have direct knowledge of what happened at 1-Family, he may have intriguing stories and gossip about other coaches, recruits and programs that can lead the feds to go investigate and try to roll up people there.
No one really knows.
Augustine was arrested on suspicion of two counts of wire fraud and one count each of wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering. He faces a possible 80 years in prison, although reasonable sentencing examples would drop that to perhaps three years at most if convicted on all counts, lawyers say. Cooperation could get him even less, or perhaps just probation.
“In general, if a defendant agrees to cooperate, they’ll get a better sentence,” Grasso, the defense attorney, said.
If he made that deal, he has to talk though. A lot. And for as long as the FBI wants him to talk, about whatever the FBI wants him to talk about.
Which makes him one dangerous figure to the nervous souls across the sport wondering just what those conversations entail.
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