Pitino lawyer: Coach did not know about payments to recruits or their families

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Adidas has asked a federal judge to dismiss former University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino’s lawsuit against the apparel maker, arguing evidence suggests Pitino was “both aware and supported the scheme” to pay players.

Pitino sued Adidas in October and claimed he was damaged by the company’s “outrageous conduct in conspiring to funnel money to the family of a college basketball recruit.” The FBI is leading a federal investigation into college basketball recruiting that was made public in a criminal complaint in September.

But Adidas contends that Kentucky law "does not permit an unindicted co-conspirator" to recover damages, and the company cites the criminal complaint as indicating Pitino was involved. 

The evidence cited by Adidas against Pitino from the complaint includes allegations that the former coach was asked to call an Adidas executive, James Gatto, to get more funding for a recruit. And the company points out that Pitino allegedly called Gatto three times before the recruit announced his commitment. 

The criminal complaint "includes allegations suggesting that he (Pitino) was both aware of and supported the scheme," according to the Adidas response. 

"... Proof of Pitino's involvement in the scheme, whether directly through phone calls to Gatto shortly before a key recruit committed to UofL, as alleged in the criminal complaint, or indirectly through the actions of staff would defeat Pitino's" outrage claims, the response says. 

And the criminal complaint suggests the alleged “fraudulent actions were directed at the University of Louisville,” not at Pitino, according to the Adidas response filed last Friday in a federal case in Louisville.

None of the statements in the criminal complaint that “appear to implicate Pitino in the alleged conspiracy are said to have been made by employees of adidas,” according to the response. 

Adidas is the official apparel provider for U of L's basketball team; Pitino had a separate sponsorship deal with Adidas, but the company severed it shortly after the criminal allegations came to light. 

Adidas also notes that major NCAA violations have become a frequent occurrence, arguing the current allegations do not represent outrageous conduct, at least not enough to satisfy the legal standard required. For example, Adidas points out that Pitino and U of L were penalized earlier this year for recruiting violations "involving sex acts performed for underage basketball recruits." 

In addition, Adidas claims the lawsuit was filed in the wrong jurisdiction, U.S. District Court in Louisville, arguing Pitino and the company agreed in his contract that any disputes should be resolved in Multnomah County, Oregon, where the company wants the case moved.

Adidas has asked the federal court to dismiss or delay the lawsuit and order the two parties to arbitration.

The response includes a letter from Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, to Adidas on Oct. 18 requesting “immediate mediation” of breach of contract, claiming U of L would not have fired Pitino if the company had not conspired to bribe the family of a recruit.

In the lawsuit, attorneys for Pitino allege Adidas’ alleged actions were done without his “knowledge, participation, or acquiescence.”

The lawsuit claims Pitino was not involved in “giving improper benefits to recruits or players.” It says Adidas knew that Pitino’s reputation hinged on him running a “clean, proper and strictly compliant” program.

And the lawsuit alleges that Pitino has been "vilified, ridiculed, and criticized in the local and national media, on social media, and in public and private communications." In addition, it has been "difficult and painful" for Pitino and his his family to appear in public, "especially in Louisville, where they live."

Federal investigators have linked Pitino’s program to a scheme to pay recruits. A criminal complaint unsealed on September 26 claims that at least one U of L coach took part in a plan to send money from apparel company Adidas to prospective players.

In particular, the FBI has accused Adidas' director of global sports marketing, Jim Gatto, of participating in the scheme and was criminally charged in a federal complaint unsealed September 26 in New York. 

Pitino's lawsuit claims that scheme "would not have happened but for the wrongful actions of Adidas and its employees." 

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