Federal corruption investigation rocks college basketball

The college basketball world was rocked Tuesday when 10 men — including four assistant coaches and a top Adidas executive — were charged with crimes including bribery and fraud as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into corruption in the sport.

Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans is charged with multiple counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery and solicitation of bribes and gratuities. Evans was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator last season under Brad Underwood, who is now the head coach at Illinois.

"We watched with the rest of the country as today's news unfolded regarding alleged corruption in corners of major college basketball," Illinois' athletic department said in a statement. "We have continued to monitor the situation and are not aware of any information to suggest involvement in today's allegations by any member of our men's basketball staff. We will support any and all efforts to ensure the integrity of our great game."

The other assistants facing charges are Auburn's Chuck Person, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, Arizona's Emanuel "Book" Richardson and USC's Tony Bland. Person and Evans were immediately suspended. Bland appeared in federal court in Tampa, Fla., wearing handcuffs and ankle chains.

"The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one," said acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim. "Those four coaches not only breached their obligations and violated NCAA rules, they also committed serious federal crimes."

Kim said the investigation involved hundreds of recordings and wiretaps with the assistance of a cooperating witness. He said the defendants were "circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes" and exploited them to enrich themselves.

The investigation appears to be far from over. The FBI set up a tip line for those with more information about the case, and William Sweeney, the assistant director in charge of the New York FBI office, had a warning for coaches who may still be involved in similar schemes.

"We have your playbook," he said.

Federal prosecutors said at least three top high school recruits were promised payments of as much as $150,000, using money supplied by Adidas, to attend two universities sponsored by the athletic shoe company.

James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas, is accused of paying high school players to sign with company-sponsored programs. Gatto and others are accused of funneling $100,000 to the family of a high school athlete to gain his commitment to play at Louisville and to sign with Adidas once he became a professional. Louisville and Adidas announced a 10-year, $160 million extension of their sponsorship deal over the summer.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said the allegations "come as a complete shock to me." He said he was "committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure those responsible are held accountable."

The NCAA was not aware of the investigation that began in 2015 until Tuesday morning, Kim said.

NCAA President Mark Emmert condemned the alleged misconduct, saying in a statement, "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."

The investigation began after Martin Blazer, a Pittsburgh-based financial adviser to pro athletes, began cooperating with authorities in 2014. Prosecutors said Person accepted about $91,500 in bribes from Blazer last year to steer clients to him when they reached the NBA. Person is being charged with six counts, including solicitation of bribes, bribery conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Prosecutors said Evans solicited at least $22,000 over the last two years, while Richardson in February was paid $20,000 in bribes, some of which he kept for himself and some of which he gave to at least one high school athlete to get him to play for Arizona. Evans, Richardson and Bland face a combined 11 charges.

The Associated Press contributed.

sryan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @sryantribune

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