Sources: Former USC assistant Tony Bland negotiating plea deal in college hoops fraud case

Former USC assistant coach Tony Bland (R) is accused of accepting money to steer players to specific business representatives. (AP)
Former USC assistant coach Tony Bland (R) is accused of accepting money to steer players to specific business representatives. (AP)

Former USC assistant basketball coach Tony Bland is in the process of negotiating a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in the college basketball fraud case and a deal could be signed in the near future, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Bland would be the first of the four college assistant coaches to reach a plea with the government and his cooperation could lead to a rush of additional settlements by assistant coaches in the case.

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The 38-year-old is expected to plead guilty to one count of federal funds bribery and receive a Level 10 sentencing guideline. Based on Bland’s lack of prior criminal record, that would call for a 6-12 month prison sentence. It is quite possible he only receives probation, according to a source.

He technically faced as much as 80 years in prison, although in reality that number would have been far lower even if he had been convicted at his scheduled 2019 trial.

A request for comment from Bland’s attorney, New York-based Jeffrey Lichtman, was not immediately returned.

Bland, who played collegiately at Syracuse and San Diego State, had been indicted in September 2016 on multiple charges by a grand jury empaneled in the Southern District of New York. The charges include honest services wire fraud, solicitations of bribes and conspiracy to commit bribery. Federal prosecutors alleged that he accepted $13,000 from would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins and financial planner Munish Sood in exchange for encouraging NBA-bound USC players to their company.

Bland was also accused of sending payments of $4,000 and $5,000 to the families of two different USC players.

In October, federal prosecutors won guilty verdicts on Dawkins and Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code in the first of three planned trials resulting from a three-year FBI probe of college and grassroots basketball. They are scheduled to be sentenced in March. The two additional trials were scheduled for 2019.

Bland’s fellow defendants for a scheduled April trial included Dawkins, Gatto, former Arizona assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson and former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans. The assistants are accused of similar crimes and circumstances as Bland.

Whether the others will now seek plea deals or take the case to trial despite having a co-defendant plead guilty remains to be seen.

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