NEW YORK (AP) — A scandal in which college basketball coaches were bribed to steer NBA-bound players to favored agents and money managers was motivated by greed, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday — before defense lawyers criticized the case as an FBI-led setup.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark said at the opening of a criminal trial that Christian Dawkins cheated to elevate prospects for his fledgling sports management company.
“This is a case about money, bribes and college basketball,” Mark said.
The prosecutor said Dawkins was aided in his scheme by Merl Code, a Clemson point guard in the 1990s who developed many contacts while doing work for shoemakers Nike and Adidas.
Mark said Code played a key role in the crimes by introducing college basketball coaches to two investors in Dawkins’ company. Those individuals, the prosecutor said, were undercover FBI agents.
“Why was Code doing this? Simple, greed,” Mark said.
Mark said Dawkins gave envelopes stuffed with cash to coaches who Code brought to him.
He said the men arranged payouts to coaches at the University of South Carolina, University of Arizona, University of Southern California, Creighton and Texas Christian University.
Dawkins’ attorney, Steven A. Haney Sr., said his client was 22 years old when the undercover FBI agents posing as investors and a cooperator seeking leniency from criminal charges met him on a yacht in lower Manhattan in 2017 to convince him to bribe college coaches.
Haney said that although Dawkins accepted thousands of dollars in cash given to him on the yacht, jurors will learn that Dawkins and Code resisted the plan to bribe coaches.
“He said he was going to bribe the coaches but he didn’t,” Haney said.
Haney predicted a not guilty verdict.
“You are not going to condemn a man for something he didn’t do,” the lawyer told jurors.
Attorney Andrew Mathias, representing Code, said evidence will show his client did not want to bribe coaches.
“Merl wanted to get paid for making introductions,” Mathias said.
He said Code repeatedly said coaches should not be given money.
He also told jurors they could conclude there was reasonable doubt because no coaches would testify.
Prosecutors objected, but Judge Edgardo Ramos allowed the statement.
The trial was the second to result from an investigation that’s exposed a seedy side of college basketball recruitment.
Code and Dawkins already were convicted in October on similar charges and were each sentenced to six months in prison. This time, the focus is on bribes to coaches instead of players’ families.
Former assistant basketball coaches Tony Bland at USC, Emanuel “Book” Richardson at Arizona, Chuck Person at Auburn University and Lamont Evans at South Carolina and Oklahoma State have pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy charges and are awaiting sentencing.
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