The FBI arrested several NCAA basketball coaches and a top marketing executive from an international sportswear company on Tuesday for alleged participation in a corruption scheme that saw the accused “circling blue chip prospects like coyotes,” according to U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
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A total of 10 people face fraud and corruption charges related to two schemes. Four assistant college basketball coaches, including Oklahoma State University’s Lamont Evans and Auburn University’s Chuck Person, are accused of “soliciting and accepting bribes” ranging from $13,000 to nearly $100,000 in value to influence high school prospects to sign with specific financial advisors and managers.
“These coaches abused that trust placed in them by the players and their families,” Kim said at a press conference, adding that the coaches violated both NCAA rules and federal laws.
In one instance, Person, who spent 13 years in the NBA, purportedly told one of the accused advisors that an unnamed recruit who fell victim to the scheme “listens to one person. That is person is me.”
Separately, James Gatto, Adidas Basketball’s head of global marketing, is accused of working with corrupt consultants and advisors to illicitly funnel cash to the families of high school basketball recruits to push players to sign with schools that Adidas sponsors. Later, the players were expected to sign with advisors who conspired with Gatto and sign endorsement deals with the company.
Kim said Gatto and his alleged co-conspirators “took steps to hide” payments to athletes, using fake invoices and false entries to disguise the payments in the company’s books. Officials declined to identify Adidas by name and said that no other executives within the company are currently suspected of participating in any wrongdoing.
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"Today, we became aware that federal investigators arrested an Adidas employee. We are learning more about the situation. We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more," Adidas said in a statement.
Kim said the NCAA schools tied to the case are “victims” who were misled by the arrested individuals.
NCAA President Mark Emmert called the allegations made by federal officials "deeply disturbing."
"Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust. We learned of these charges this morning and of course will support the ongoing criminal federal investigation," Emmert said.
Investigators have reportedly examined since 2015 whether the coaches, executives and advisors charged in the probe exchanged cash to influence top college basketball players.
This story has been updated.