CRAWFORD | Following the money in the Louisville basketball escort allegations
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Follow the money! It’s a favorite rallying cry of journalists, historians, economists, pretty much everybody.
But none of those people ever tried to follow the money in Katina Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.”
Money is at the root of this controversy. The NCAA forbids extra benefits to players or impermissible inducements to recruits (the rules are conveniently printed in the back of Powell’s book). And a big part of determining what kind of penalty the University of Louisville could face, if any, will hinge on how much improper money changed hands.
That’s easy enough to say, but not so easily determined. Katina Powell said she received more than $10,000 over four years of providing strippers and escorts who had sex with U of L basketball players and recruits, and that doesn’t count extra money for “side deals” (sex) and hundreds of one-dollar bills provided to throw at the strippers.
This money, she says, came from former U of L director of basketball operations Andre McGee. Many have wondered how McGee, in that position, might be able to fund that kind of adult-entertainment habit. Certainly, in his first two seasons, you have to wonder. He was a graduate assistant in those years, making little more than a stipend, with a free room in the basketball dorm.
But his last reported salary as director of basketball operations — listed officially as a special assistant to Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino in state salary databases — was $105,000. David Padgett, who just left the position for an assistant coaching spot at U of L, had a salary of $150,000.
(A quick editorial aside. Regardless of what winds up being true in this scandal, that the director of basketball operations can make more than professors who chair departments like physics, biology, justice administration, psychology, mathematics, political science and others is the real crime in all this.)
At any rate, let’s follow some money. Remember this disclaimer — the discussion of these dollar amounts isn’t an acknowledgment that what Powell alleges is true, and discrepancies found aren’t “proof” that they are false. But this discussion will try to arrive at a dollar amount through Powell’s own writing, and examine how she has tried to establish that. About all we can do in this case is to look at what Katina Powell says about the money, begin there, and see where it leads us.
Powell alleges in the book, and has said repeatedly on national television, that she made more than $10,000 over four years in the escort-for-recruit arrangement she had with McGee.
Here’s how the book puts it, precisely:
“At the peak of the dormitory and off-campus entertainment more than $10,000 cash changed hands to Katina for supplying the women. This does not include the hundreds of one dollar bills thrown at the dancers at each party by McGee, the recruits and players. Nor does it include the money paid to the women who had sex with the recruits afterward.”
We know going in that this will be difficult. For starters, we’re talking about cash. And secondly, we’re talking about people who probably weren’t entering every dollar into their Quicken programs to keep track. We have no invoices, no receipts.
What we do have, to start with, are Powell’s allegations. And we have something else, a page from her journal, as reproduced in her book.
That page is noteworthy. Powell says she put on 22 shows for U of L recruiting purposes from 2010 to 2014. Of those, 19 are entered into a ledger reproduced as a journal page in her book. (She details only 10 parties including U of L players or recruits over the course of her book’s narrative.)
The ledger is worth a closer look. As I discussed in an overall piece looking at some of the evidence Powell offered, the sequencing of the entries seems problematic. An entry for an encounter with a police officer, for instance, listed in the book as occurring in late 2011, is either the sixth or eighth entry listed (both titled “cops”) for that year. As well, a couple of bachelor parties appear listed in the opposite order from which they’re written about in the book, though maybe the narrative wasn’t intended to be chronological.
Regardless, even if taken as accurate and contemporaneous, the ledger shows that Powell recorded $5,820 from 19 shows with U of L, with only three shows outstanding. It’s unlikely that those three shows would’ve yielded $4,000 or more.
Powell also said she had sex with one recruit, and the fathers, relatives or guardians of some. Whether money received for that is on top of the total she lists is uncertain. She does seem to list extra amounts on a couple of register entries, such as $120 she says McGee paid her for having sex with a recruit’s father at a SpringHill Suites, and her second entry from 2013, when she lists $600 from a U of L party.
In a journal entry from July 18, 2011, she writes: “I’m glad that I am retired from dancing at U of L. Can’t say the money ain’t good but I have put my fair share in . . . Now I book them, get paid off top and we good. . . . The dancers I have now are cool. They basically know the drill and how I am. I’m always down to make cake. I expect $300 just to walk through the door.”
Given that entry, it’s unlikely Powell received significant extra money — beyond what she said she made for bringing women to the parties — after 2011.
Powell also could be counting money received from Terrence Williams, who she reports paid her $1,500 for two different sessions. That would be understandable. But from an investigation and NCAA standpoint, Williams, whose last game at U of L was in March of 2009, one year prior to when Powell says she met McGee, isn’t of much interest.
So, off the top, from her own handwritten account, the amount of money shrinks from “more than $10,000” to $5,820 for Powell, plus two unreported shows, plus $500 for a meeting with recruit Antonio Blakeney and his guardian at a Louisville hotel (though they were in town for an AAU Tournament and not to visit U of L, per se), plus an unknown, unrecorded and undisclosed amount for the women working for her — an amount that probably can never be known or determined.
This is the point at which, valued reader, I can sense eyes starting to glaze over. So let’s take a number break and bring in some human voices.
Powell had plenty more to say about the money in this book.
After describing a show for the recruiting visit of Terry Rozier in late 2011, when Powell says she took two sets of game tickets in lieu of money, she writes: “I think it’s time we slow down for U of L. I wouldn’t want McGee to get in trouble. He only means well. He spends his money on this s***, and, believe me, it’s not cheap. He gives the guys money to throw at the girls. He constantly has to go to the ATM to get money out, $300 for me, $300 in tips for the girls, tickets for me. Alcohol for the recruits when they come, three bottles of Ciroc liquor, which is about $30 a bottle. And this is at least twice a month. At this rate, by the time I’m done my girls will be basketball wives for sho.”
Before the Rozier visit, in an undated text exchange that is recreated for the book, McGee is said to text Powell: “we gotta talk about prices. I can’t keep spitting out 200 to 250 up front. Its basketball season…so we got some tickets…so lets talk.”
Powell texts him that she’ll take two tickets and $100 as payment occasionally — but notes that the tickets have to be to good games.
In the spring of 2012, the book says:
“Some things were peculiar to (Powell), however. While McGee always liked to say that the ATM was his best friend, many times his cash was wrapped in bank bands — stacks of money with white bands around it and nothing you could get from an ATM. ‘I never questioned exactly where the money came from, I just knew he had help because his account couldn’t handle expenses alone. Andre would stand on the couch and throw money. He'd give it to the guys to throw.’”
These bands Powell describes could be any amount of money. Again, one reason I’d hoped to question her was that it isn’t the white on the bands that would help determine matters. It was the color outside of that white.
At least for banks, currency straps have their own denominational markings. A black strap (black on the outside, with a white interior) is 25 one-dollar bills. An orange strap is 50 ones. A blue strap is $100 in ones, green is $200 in ones and pink is $250. A yellow band is 100 ten-dollar bills. A violet is $2,000 worth of twenties.
We don’t know, frankly, what kind of money she’s talking about. If it’s a hundred bucks worth of ones, or more. And certainly, money bands in all colors are available from office supply stores. The money may not have come straight from a bank.
The larger the amount, the more one would suspect someone else was supplying McGee. But given that half of the currency bands in public use are for varying numbers of $1 bills, the chances are pretty good that she is describing singles.
But enough small change. On Monday, I examined the parties Powell described in her book. Of the 10 that involved U of L players or recruits, she says she received $1,420. Whether she also received $300 per appearance on top of that, she doesn’t say.
If she did, that would bring the total to $4,120, including $300 she got from a source other than McGee, mentioned in the next paragraph, and leaving out the Rozier party in which she said she took tickets instead of cash. That would get her closer to the $6,000 range her journal ledger suggests.
In one of the ten parties, the second she describes, Powell says a mutual friend of hers and McGee’s, who owns a local barbershop, took care of the payment, because it doubled as a party for one of his friends.
Despite describing the amounts of money she alleges, and the banded stacks of cash, Powell also complains in her book that McGee developed a pattern of paying late.
After a show on Sept. 8, 2012, she writes, “I did something I don’t normally do, and that is let McGee pay me later.”
Again later that month, she writes in a journal entry, “McGee for some reason seems to wanna keep paying me later. I keep saying that I’m gonna quit fooling with this fool.”
Two more transactions, then some conclusions.
First, in June of 2013, Powell describes a show she put on while JaQuan Lyle was on his recruiting visit. One report, from CBS Sports, says Lyle has confirmed the basics of what Powell alleged went on there to the NCAA. She doesn’t give a dollar amount paid. But she does say this in a journal entry: “McGee said that I had given his money back he would give me the signed Maker’s Mark bottle by Rick Pitino, and it’s gonna be worth something in 15 years. But I’m cool.”
The Pitino Maker’s Mark commemorative national championship bottles did come out in June of 2013. Powell would’ve been wise to take McGee up on his offer. It would’ve been a piece of tangible evidence that she had been compensated. The bottles were numbered, and it wouldn’t have taken too much work to see if the number on her bottle matched the group of bottles given to U of L.
Second, the visit of Antonio Blakeney. The highly recruited guard was coming to town to compete in an AAU tournament, and McGee was contacted by someone, presumably on U of L’s behalf, to arrange entertainment for him at his East End hotel. McGee called Powell. The book shows screen shots of text messages instructing Powell on the hotel’s address.
The payment, however, was different. Powell says she got part of the money by going to Minardi Hall and waiting.
“At about 7 o’clock I went to the basketball dorm and a light-skinned guy came out,” she writes. “He was sexy as hell and I had never seen this guy before. I didn’t see him as a player, I saw him as another one of the team's flunkies. He gave me $200 in twenties, shook my hand, and walked away, almost as if he didn’t want me to get a good look at him. I got the money and left.”
Powell said her youngest daughter had sex with Blakeney and she had sex with his guardian. Afterward, she talked to McGee about getting the balance of the money he owed her.
“He asked me for my government name and address and told me that in the morning I could go to any Walmart and pick up the rest of my money ($300),” she writes. “When I got to the Walmart the lady at the counter looked at the money-gram and said, Hey, I know this name, Andre McGee. Don’t he play for U of L?”
In the book, Powell includes a picture of the receipt. It is the only hard evidence of a transaction.
Following the money in a case like this leaves you with lots of talk, but little actual evidence. Powell alleges cash payments, but cannot prove them, until the end, when she finally has a paper trail.
The Lyle recruiting visit would also appear to have a great deal of confirmation, on everything but the money.
How the NCAA will go about assessing monetary value to all of these things, I don’t know.
Powell said last week that she has not spoken with the NCAA. That’s in keeping with the NCAA enforcement practice in its investigation of the University of Miami, when it was dealing with a convicted felon in Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro.
“The committee sought, and in most instances found, corroboration through the statements of individuals other than the booster, as well as, through supporting documentation,” the NCAA wrote in its infractions report.
But as you can see from the difficulty in just arriving at an overall dollar amount, to speculate on what the NCAA might be looking at in an investigation that includes dozens of players and payments would be of little value.
Complicating matters is the fact that the NCAA doesn’t have subpoena power. It can’t reach into anyone’s bank account. It can examine accounts within U of L’s athletic department, and phone records there.
It’s easier to talk in broader terms, of what the NCAA will need to see to avoid charging Rick Pitino with unethical conduct (not likely, since it requires unethical action, which has not even yet been alleged) or the program itself with failure to monitor.
Its report, where Pitino is concerned, will concern itself with whether Pitino fostered a culture of compliance, how much education on NCAA matters was stressed, and how often Pitino talked about it with his staff. It also will rule on whether he knew about any violations, or reasonably should have known. For U of L, it will look at official visit policies, and evaluate potential shortcomings in those.
The money does matter. It will weigh into which direction the NCAA wants to go. But with no verification available, and no amounts readily available, I would guess the NCAA will rely more on discussions with those who can speak to the validity of the allegations, than any dollar figure anyone can set.
Some would say this is splitting hairs. But the scope of these events does matter. The larger the scope, the more U of L is open to claims of negligence. The smaller, the more likely it will be able to lay these at the feet of a rogue employee.
Following the money, in general, is solid journalistic practice. But finding the source of stacks of cash, without McGee’s input, may prove nearly impossible. At one point in the book, Powell laments her own marijuana use, writing, “I buy weed like every day, it seems like that’s where all my money goes. I could probably be a millionaire if I just stop smoking.”
In this case, at least some of the money exchanged, quite literally, went up in smoke. It doesn’t get much harder to follow than that.
- U of L President James Ramsey addresses Katina Powell sex scandal in e-mail
- Following the money in the Louisville basketball escort allegations
- Documenting the Louisville escort party allegations, a closer look
- PITINO BLOG POST: "I will not resign."
- Katina Powell to ESPN: "The side deals were sex"
- BOZICH | This is one mess Pitino can't fix
- U of L Basketball Coach Rick Pitino says the scandal surrounding his program makes no sense
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