NEW YORK – College basketball was rattled Thursday by the testimony of Brian Bowen Sr. in a federal fraud trial taking place here in Manhattan. Under oath, Bowen detailed both offered and executed payments from a slew of schools interested in signing his son, Brian “Tugs” Bowen II, a top-30 recruit from the Class of 2017.
Tuesday should prove to be far more turbulent for the sport.
Bowen answered questions under direct questioning from a federal prosecutor for about two hours at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse. Among the school and entities named for seeking or delivering payments to Bowen were Louisville, Arizona, Creighton, Oklahoma State, Texas, one high school and three AAU teams. Additional allegations of NCAA violations were mentioned at Kansas and potentially Oregon.
Some specific amounts were floated – $150,000, $8,000 for a car and “an undisclosed amount” to buy a house from Oklahoma State, for example. There was also a $50,000 offer straight up from Arizona. And so on.
While some assistant coaches were named as the point person in the offers, details remained scarce.
That won’t be the case for long, though.
Bowen is a prosecution witness. The government’s case alleges Adidas’ James Gatto and Merl Code, plus middleman Christian Dawkins, are guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud because they paid Bowen Sr. money that made Tugs Bowen ineligible and thus damaged Louisville, where Tugs eventually signed.
All three men have pleaded not guilty and have argued the NCAA rules they violated were in an effort to aid Louisville by delivering the Cardinals a top recruit.
“It’s not against the law to violate NCAA rules,” Gatto’s attorney, Casey Donnelly said. “Jim wasn’t trying to harm these schools, he was trying to help them. It was a win-win-win.”
The prosecution needed to bring forward the allegations of other offers with Bowen before defense attorneys did on cross examination. If they hadn’t, then it may have looked like the prosecution was hiding something from the jury.
It doesn’t help the government’s case, however, to have college basketball look like a bastion of widespread corruption. As such, the questioning was straightforward and not particularly probing. Bowen Sr. testified that almost all of the offers from colleges came via Dawkins, who was working as a de facto agent.
The government will continue their direct examination of Bowen on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Then defense attorneys for all three defendants will get their chance.
And that’s when the motivation, and likely the focus of questioning, will flip. It behooves the defense’s case to draw out not just any additional possible NCAA violations, coaches or schools, but to do so with as much detail as possible.
The strategy is that the more the defense can show that the schools themselves do not follow or honor NCAA rules, the more challenging it is for the prosecution to get the jury to believe Gatto, Code and Dawkins actually hurt Louisville and others rather than just participate in a multi-pronged attempt to buy a top recruit. It could also show that myriad people made Tugs Bowen ineligible, not just the three inside the courtroom.
One allegation that came out in general terms Thursday, for example, was the government noting that Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson paid Bowen Sr. the sum of $1,300. If more is learned from that then the defense can argue that if Louisville is paying Bowen Sr., then how can Gatto, Code and Dawkins have defrauded the school by doing the exact same thing?
The more schools named, the more direct interactions between Bowen and college coaches, the more payouts or discussions of payouts, the better for the defense.
Basically, the more dirt the better.
As such, the expected blistering cross examinations, which will come one after the other, will be designed to dig and dig and dig. It could yield not just more info, but the kind of precise information that NCAA investigators could use to build cases against the accused.
Which can make Tuesday potentially the most impactful day of the trial thus far.
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