Former Kentucky hoop staffer indicted for defrauding athletes nearly $1.3 million

Yahoo Sports
Leon Smith worked in a variety of roles for Kentucky’s basketball program. (Getty)
Leon Smith worked in a variety of roles for Kentucky’s basketball program. (Getty)

A former University of Kentucky basketball staffer and NCAA employee who became an adviser to professional athletes was indicted by a federal grand jury late last week on felony charges of defrauding clients for nearly $1.3 million, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

Leon Smith, who operated Lexington-based Legacy Pro Management Group and Legacy Athlete Management, is charged with 14 counts of fraud involving four unnamed athletes between 2011-15, according to a copy of the indictment obtained by Yahoo Sports. The alleged victims in the scheme are identified in the indictment only by initials, but sources told Yahoo Sports that three of the four are Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (“S.M.”) and former NBA players Darius Miller (“D.M.”) and Josh Harrellson (“J.D.H.”).

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The indictment says Smith was authorized to “conduct financial transactions on (clients’) behalf and therefore entrusted Smith with his or her financial account data, dates of birth, social security numbers, and other personal and financial data.” Smith, the indictment alleges, then used that access to siphon athletes’ money into his own business accounts.

According to court records, Smith has been given a May 15 arraignment date in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Ky. If found guilty of all counts, Smith could face a maximum penalty of more than 30 years in prison and a monetary forfeiture of the $1.298 million he is alleged to have stolen.

Smith, who played football at Kentucky under coach Bill Curry and graduated from the school in 1995, was at one point considered an athletic administrator on the rise. He worked in a variety of roles at his alma mater: special assistant to head basketball coach Tubby Smith 1997-99; director of basketball operations from 2001-06; and assistant athletic director under Mitch Barnhart, primarily serving as the men’s basketball team administrator from 2006-09.

Smith also worked at the NCAA for two years as an assistant director of championships in the 1990s, and one year at USA Basketball. In 2003, he was selected for a one-year term with the NCAA Leadership Institute for Ethnic Minority Males.

Smith’s client base generally came with UK and/or Lexington connections.

Mack is a Lexington native who played collegiately at Butler from 2008-11. Miller and Harrellson both played college basketball at Kentucky, and both currently play professionally overseas. Miller played for the Wildcats from 2008-12 and was a second-round draft pick; he has played 102 NBA games with the New Orleans Pelicans. Harrellson was at Kentucky from 2008-11 and also was a second-round pick; he played 75 games in the NBA from 2011-14.

Mack, Miller and Harrellson all declined to comment on the matter.

The University of Kentucky also declined comment, citing a policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Leon Smith, far left, in a 2003 team photo of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/teams/kaf/" data-ylk="slk:Kentucky Wildcats">Kentucky Wildcats</a>. (Courtesy University of Kentucky)
Leon Smith, far left, in a 2003 team photo of the Kentucky Wildcats. (Courtesy University of Kentucky)

The indictment charges Smith with four counts of wire fraud:

• Transferring $14,000 from a private account belong to client “J.L.” to a Legacy Pro Management Group account on Sept. 12, 2012.

• Depositing a $40,000 royalty check from the NBA Players Association earmarked for Harrellson into a Legacy account on Jan. 28, 2013.

• Transferring $3,450 from a Harrellson account to a Legacy account on Sept. 5, 2013.

• Transferring $2,467.74 from a Miller account to a Legacy account on Sept. 18, 2013.

The indictment also alleges nine counts of identity theft via forgery of signatures on federal income tax refund checks, royalty checks and payroll checks for Harrellson, Mack and “J.L.”

The 14th count alleges that on Jan. 29, 2013, Smith wrote a check for $12,500 from a Legacy account – using money siphoned from Legacy clients – to MCIC LLC, a Lexington company incorporated in 2012 by attorney Mason Miller.

“These funds are derived from specified unlawful activity, that is the wire fraud scheme alleged in Counts 1 through 4 …” the indictment states.

Miller also is named as the registered agent in the articles of incorporation for both Legacy Pro Management Group and Legacy Athlete Management. The latter was dissolved on Sept. 12, 2015. He and Smith registered to start at least two other Limited Liability Companies: LMH Group in 2011, and KY Recordings in 2013.

Miller also has had involvement in other LLC ventures with Legacy clients. He is the named organizer on still-active SBM Licensing (Shelvin Mack); DTM Licensing (Darius Miller); Keenan Burton Football, named after the former Kentucky receiver who played 22 games in the National Football League; and Rondo World, named for former UK star Rajon Rondo. Only SBM Licensing remains an active company, according to Kentucky Secretary of State records.

Miller said that despite his name being on numerous legal documents pertaining to Legacy companies, he did not do any legal work for Smith and did not have a significant relationship with Smith. He said he was the legal counsel for several athletes, including some of Smith’s clients.

“I knew him because he did work for some of my clients,” Miller told Yahoo Sports. “I didn’t do any work for Leon.”

When asked his reaction to the charges, Miller said, “I honestly don’t know anything about it. I don’t have any comment, really.”

Smith was the named organizer of JOM, the initials of Legacy client and former Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks, who now plays in the NBA for Orlando Magic.

Smith moved into financial advising and other athlete services two years into the Calipari Era. The indictment described his business thusly: “Under the Legacy name, Smith agreed to provide services to numerous professional athletes … including assistance with relocation, real estate purchases or rentals, other major purchases, bill payment, and referral to other professionals for legal needs and financial planning.”

Smith could not be reached for comment Monday, and does not have an attorney listed in court documents reviewed by Yahoo Sports. Carlton Shier, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, declined to elaborate on the charges levied against Smith.

“We really have to stay within the four corners of the indictment,” Shier said.

In his basketball operations role at Kentucky, Smith was viewed by many as a vital conduit between the coaches and the players.

“He was a mentor to me, Josh [Carrier] and Ravi [Moss], off the court in terms of how to carry ourselves on campus and throughout the city of Lexington,” former UK standout Chuck Hayes was quoted as saying in the book “Wildcat Memories.” “His office door was always open to us, whether we wanted to talk about something related to basketball or related to our lives off the court.”

Read the full indictment here:

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