Former U of L recruit Brian Bowen

Former U of L recruit Brian Bowen

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In defending their lawsuit against Adidas, attorneys for former Louisville basketball recruit Brian Bowen called a top company executive the “ringleader of this fraud.”

And many of the allegations, Bowen's attorneys argue, have already been proven in criminal court, where Adidas employees were convicted. 

Adidas has asked a judge to dismiss Bowen's federal racketeering lawsuit, arguing, in part, that there is no evidence the company aided or approved the payments to Bowen, claiming "a few" of its employees specifically discussed concealing the plan.

In a response filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina on Friday, Bowen’s attorneys argue he is the biggest victim of the pay-to-play scandal, “facing down down a corrupt multi-national corporation, its convicted executives, and confederates to seek just compensation for the harm they caused to his property, his career, and to the sport of college basketball.”

The attorneys argue Adidas forged a “criminal racketeering enterprise” to steer the country’s top basketball recruits to the company and its sponsored universities, laundering money to bribe family members of the players.

As evidence, they cite testimony that Adidas executive Chris Rivers oversaw an operation he termed “Black Ops” in which he personally approved bribes for players and directed other employees not to mention the bribes in writing. Rivers has not been charged and has not testified.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are former Adidas executive James Gatto; Merl Code, a former amateur coach; Christian Dawkins, who coached Bowen’s AAU team; financial adviser Munish Sood; Adidas consultant Thomas Gassnola; and Rivers.

A federal jury in Manhattan found Gatto, Dawkins and Code guilty of fraud charges.

Sood pleaded guilty in a case against a former Adidas executive and two other men charged in an alleged scheme.

Gassnola pleaded guilty to wire fraud. 

Bowen’s attorneys also argue former U of L assistant coaches Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair worked with the defendants to conceal bribe payments. Neither man has been charged.  

Bowen enrolled at U of L in 2017 – after his father was promised $100,000 - and practiced with the team but never played a game after he was linked to a federal investigation into college basketball corruption.

Adidas attorneys argue Bowen lacks standing to bring the suit, that his argument that he lost money from a career in the NBA is "speculative" and that the loss of his scholarship was his decision when he left U of L, not something the shoe company was involved in.

But Bowen’s attorneys he was one of the top recruits in 2017 and “widely viewed" to go straight to the NBA after one or two years in college – and viewed by Adidas employees as a future pro.

The motion points out that in wiretapped conversations, Sood and Dawkins discussed whether Bowen was a top 10 or 20 draft pick.

Also, 70% of Bowen’s teammates on the 2017 McDonald’s All-American team are already in the NBA, while the remaining are projected to be drafted in the NBA after college, according to the motion.

And they noted that an expert concluded a five-star player at U of L represented a $3.6 million value to the school.

However, after the federal charges were made public, Bowen was removed from the team and lost critical resources at the university – a Hall of Fame coach, training facilities, equipment, nutritionists – that would help him prepare for his professional career, the attorneys argue.

“Once Brian’s eligibility was destroyed, he became damaged goods to the University,” according to the motion, which also denies that “abandoned” his scholarship at the school.

Adidas has also argued that Bowen’s father, Brian Bowen Sr., took money several times, including from a Nike AAU team, a high school coach and to secure his commitment at U of L - with the admitted understanding that it could jeopardize his son’s eligibility.

"Bowen purports to decry the state of amateur basketball in this country, but through the actions of his father over many years, Bowen was an active participant in and beneficiary of endemic recruiting violations," Adidas argues in the answer to the lawsuit. "The Complaint is a cynical attempt to recover indirect damages from his father’s alleged co-conspirators for speculative injuries that he has not suffered and which he may never incur."

In their response, Bowen’s attorneys argue this is victim blaming and he had no knowledge of his father’s activities.

“Brian earned his place on the UofL basketball (team) on his own merit and had no reason to risk his eligibility and career to get there; rather, Defendants admit they were ‘trying to help one of our flagship schools in [Louisville] you know, secure a five star caliber kid,’” according to the motion.

Bowen is seeking unspecified monetary damages and is asking that Adidas be banned from sponsoring men's Division 1 college basketball programs. The Germany-based apparel giant sponsors the University of Louisville's athletic department.

Bowen is playing professionally overseas.

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.