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Still reeling from sex scandal and NCAA probation, things get worse for Louisville basketball

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the beleaguered University of Louisville basketball program. . .

U of L, still reeling from NCAA penalties because of sex parties and facing the prospect of having to vacate its 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four, could now be dealing with a much more serious issue.

Coaches for a school that appears to be Louisville are implicated in a major FBI investigation announced Tuesday that has sent shock waves through college basketball, with more revelations probably to come.

U of L issued a statement Tuesday afternoon acknowledging its inclusion in the FBI’s investigation of wire fraud and money laundering (UofL Athletics Photo)

U of L issued a statement Tuesday afternoon acknowledging its inclusion in the FBI’s investigation of wire fraud and money laundering.

“Today, the University of Louisville received notice that it is included in a federal investigation involving criminal activity related to men’s basketball recruiting,” said the statement, issued through interim President Greg Postel’s office. “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. U of L 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.”

In a widespread case revealed by prosecutors in Manhattan, 10 people, including four assistant coaches and a senior executive at Adidas, have been indicted and arrested on charges of federal bribery, fraud and other corruption.

The United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon H. Kim, said that since 2015 the FBI and federal prosecutors have been investigating “the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate basketball governed by the NCAA.”

The complaints accuse four men of funneling about $100,000 to an All-American high school player — referred to as “Player-10” — from May until September 2017 to assist one or more coaches at “University 6” in recruiting him.

In another case, a coach for a university that matches UofL’s description was caught on an undercover FBI video negotiating payments in a Las Vegas hotel room for a second recruit, according to prosecutors. The coach, who is not named, acknowledged that his school was on probation and said, “we gotta be very low key,” according to court documents.

“University 6” is described as a public research university in Kentucky with an enrollment of 22,640. UofL is the only school in Kentucky that matches that description. The university’s enrollment for the 2016-17 academic year was listed at 22,640. The document also said the school offers approximately 21 varsity sports teams, which is the number the Cardinals list on their Website.

According to the complaint, “Player-10″‘s family was to be paid $100,000 in four installments. “Player-10” was also said to have committed to “University-6” on or about June 3, 2017, “or almost immediately afer the illicit bribe scheme.”

The indictment says that prior to paying Player-10’s family, the defendants “first needed time to generate a sham purchase order and invoice ostensibly to justify using Company-1 funds since they could not lawfully pay the family of Player-10 directly and risk that such prohibited payments be revealed.”

The only prospect who committed to Louisville on that date and fits the description is five-star recruit Brian Bowen, now a freshman on this season’s team. Bowen, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Saginaw, Mich., helped La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind., to a national championship last season.

“We got lucky on this one,” Pitino said at the time. “We spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete. . .In my 40 years of coaching this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

Pitino said an “AAU director” had called him and asked him if he would be interested in Bowen.

Bowen’s mother, Carrie Malecke, told The Courier-Journal Tueday afternoon that she didn’t know anything about money changing hands.

“I’m not aware of anything like that,” she said. “Not me. I had no idea.”

A second prospect, identified as “Player-11”, was said to have been paid to agree to attend the university as a member of the 2019 signing class.

Pitino didn’t return phone calls from local media outlets, who were also told by a university official that athletics director Tom Jurich was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Kenny Klein, senior associate athletics director for media relations, said he and others at the university learned of the indictments at the same time as everyone else.

“We have no idea about any of this stuff,” Klein said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. Nobody in basketball is aware of any of this.”

The investigation has revealed “numerous instances” of bribes paid by athlete advisers, among others, to assistant coaches and sometimes directly to student-athletes at NCAA Division I universities, the complaint said. “The bribes were designed to get commitments from college stars to work with specific agents and companies after they turned professional, or to convince highly-recruited high school players to attend specific schools.”

Among those arrested an named in court documents are Auburn’s Chuck Person, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland, all assistant coaches.

Also indicted were James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for Adidas; Merl Code, who recently left Nike for Adidas; Christian Dawkins, an NBA agent for was fired from ASM Sports in May for charging about $42,000 from Uber on a player’s credit card; Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of an Adidas-sponsored family AAU program; Munish Sood, a financial adviser; and Rashan Michel, a former NBA official who is owner of a custom clothing outlet for athletes.

Last month Louisville extended its 19-year partnership with Adidas through the 2027-28 season for $160 million. The company is to provide footwear, apparel, accessories, athletic facilities enhancement and marketing support for the university. Gatto is not mentioned in the school’s press release on the deal.

“The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one,” said Kim, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes. Managers and financial adviers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes. And employees of one of the world’s largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to the families of high school recruits.

“For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March. Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.”

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