LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville acknowledged on Tuesday that its men's basketball program is tied to a wide-ranging federal bribery probe into college basketball recruiting.
Federal criminal complaints accuse at least one coach at U of L of taking part in a scheme this summer to funnel about $100,000 from the Adidas apparel company to an All-American high school player that Louisville was recruiting. The “bribe money” was meant to be concealed from the NCAA and university officials.
In another case, a U of L coach was caught on an undercover FBI video negotiating payments in a Las Vegas hotel room for a second recruit who is still in high school, prosecutors claim. The coach, who is not named, acknowledged that his school was on probation at the time and said, 'we gotta be very low key," according to court documents.
"While we are just learning about this information, this is a serious concern that goes to the heart of our athletic department and the university," Greg Postel, U of L's interim president, said in a statement. "UofL is committed to ethical behavior and adherence to NCAA rules; any violations will not be tolerated."
"We will cooperate fully with any law enforcement or NCAA investigation into the matter," he said.
J. David Grissom, chairman of the university's board of trustees, declined to say during a telephone interview if he had spoken with U of L athletics director Tom Jurich or Postel.
“I just think at this point it would be inappropriate for me to have any comment," Grissom said.
U of L Head Coach Rick Pitino released a statement through his attorney, Steve Pence, Tuesday night:
In a follow-up interview, when asked if Pitino should be fired, Pence said "that would be fairly reckless of the university."
Bill Stone, a member of the U of L athletic association, declined to say what ought to happen in response to Tuesday's allegations, but he said he trusts Postel and Grissom to "steer the ship on the right path."
"The fans have been through emotional hell," Stone said. "They've had enough."
In all, prosecutors charged 10 people -- including four coaches at Oklahoma State, Auburn University, Arizona and the University of Southern California -- in New York City federal court. No U of L coaches were indicted or named in the complaints, which allege counts of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York revealed the "dark underbelly of college basketball," Joon Kim, acting U.S. Attorney, said at a press conference in New York City.
Kim said the indictments show "coaches at some of the nation's top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes." He said the investigation is ongoing.
Three of the men are affiliated with a multinational athletic apparel company. Defendant James Gatto has been Adidas’ head of “global sports marketing – basketball” since 1993, according to LinkedIn. Adidas is U of L's official apparel provider.
"We became aware today of the allegations and intend to cooperate with the relevant authorities," Adidas spokeswoman Maria Culp said in a statement. "The employee has been put on administrative leave and the company has engaged outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation. In all aspects of our business, adidas is committed to compliance and ethical business practices."
The complaints indicate that since 2015 the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in New York's Southern District have been investigating the "criminal influence of money on coaches and athletes" who play NCAA-sanctioned basketball.
Among other allegations are pay-for-play recruiting efforts at "University-6" -- a Kentucky public research university with 22,640 students and more than 7,000 faculty and staff, court documents say. U of L had 22,640 students enrolled as of last fall, according to the university's website.
An FBI agent claims in an affidavit that four of the defendants -- at the request of a U of L coach -- agreed to provide the $100,000 from Adidas to a player's family. Shortly after the agreement in late May and early June, the player publicly committed to the school, the complaint says.
While his name is not directly mentioned, recruit and current U of L freshman Brian Bowen was widely viewed as a surprise commitment when he announced on June 3 he was coming to U of L.
The money was wired to third-party consultants who then made cash payments to the player’s family, prosecutors claim. However, the indictment alleges the scheme “could only succeed” if one or more coaches at the university made “false certification to the university.”
According to the indictments, Gatto submitted fake invoices to Adidas for the payments.
The FBI also video-recorded a defendant at a July meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room saying a second university coach was involved in "securing funding" from the company for the player's family, a federal complaint says.
At the Las Vegas meeting, an unnamed U of L coach also was captured talking about the recruitment of another high school player who is expected to graduate in 2019.
During that meeting, records show, one of the defendants noted that the university was already on NCAA probation and would have to be “particularly careful” about how the money was passed to the current high school player and his family. The coach agreed, saying, “we gotta be very low key,” according to the indictments.
Prosecutors said the probe has revealed numerous instances of bribes paid by athlete advisers, including financial advisers and associate basketball coaches, to assistant and associate basketball coaches to exert influence over student athletes.
Below is a copy of the federal complaint:
WDRB reporters Travis Ragsdale and Chris Otts contributed.
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