Four college assistant basketball coaches, including USC’s Tony Bland, have been indicted in a fraud and corruption scheme alleging they accepted bribes from either athlete business managers, financial advisers or an athletic apparel company, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors in New York said Bland accepted at least $13,000 in bribes from a pair of “athlete advisers” between June and September, in exchange for Bland influencing players to hire the advisers when they began playing in the NBA.
Prosecutors contend that Bland told the advisers, “I definitely can get the players. … And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”
At Bland’s direction, the advisers also paid another $9,000 to the families of two USC players, and Bland set up a meeting between the advisers and a relative of a USC player, prosecutors contend. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York did not name the players.
“The college coaches took cash bribes in exchange for directing players and their families to their bribers,” Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said. “For these men, bribing coaches was a business investment. If and when young players turned pro, that would mean big bucks for them.”
USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann released a statement saying the university was caught off-guard by the development.
“We were shocked to learn this morning through news reports about the FBI investigation and arrests related to NCAA basketball programs, including the arrest of USC assistant coach Tony Bland,” Swann said. “USC Athletics maintains the highest standards in athletic compliance across all of our programs and does not tolerate misconduct in any way. We will cooperate fully with the investigation and will assist authorities as needed, and if these allegations are true, will take the needed actions.”
Mike Blanton, USC’s vice president for athletic compliance, said Bland was immediately placed on administrative leave when the allegations surfaced. He also said the university has hired former FBI director Louis J. Freeh and his company to “work with us in conducting an internal investigation into this matter so that we can take action quickly and appropriately.”
“This morning, we reached out proactively to both the NCAA and the FBI to pledge our full cooperation and to learn more details,” he said. “Everyone associated with the program will cooperate fully with these investigations and will assist authorities as needed.”
Bland, 37, is facing charges of bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes, honest services fraud conspiracy, honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and Travel Act conspiracy. He faces up to 80 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors.
In addition to Bland, the assistant coaches named in the indictment are Chuck Person of Auburn, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State and Emmanuel Richardson of the University of Arizona.
The FBI alleges in one unsealed complaint that “Person abused his coaching position (at Auburn) to solicit or obtain bribe payments” from a financial adviser for professional athletes, according to USA Tuesday. The adviser, who was not named in the indictment, was secretly working with law enforcement as part of the investigation.
Over a 10-month period, the financial adviser allegedly paid about $91,500 in bribes to Person in exchange for Person “agreeing to direct certain (Auburn) basketball players to retain the services (of the financial adviser) when those student-athletes entered the NBA.”
The two advisers who allegedly paid bribes to Bland — 24-year-old Christian Dawkins and 45-year-old Munish Sood — are each facing up to 200 years in prison under the charges in the indictment.
Prosecutors said a second alleged scheme involved paying star high- school recruits to attend universities, according to federal prosecutors. In one such case, a player was allegedly paid $150,000 to attend a Kentucky university sponsored by a sportswear company, widely reported to involve the University of Louisville and Adidas, respectively. The school recently signed a 10- year, $160 million apparel contract with Adidas.
“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one — coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits,” Kim said.
Bland was an assistant coach at San Diego State University from 2009 to 2013 before he left for a similar assistant coaching role at USC. Bland, whose duties for the Aztecs included recruiting players, was at SDSU for the most successful basketball seasons in the program’s history. He helped coach the Aztecs to the NCAA Tournament during all four of his years as an assistant, including their first-ever run to the Sweet 16 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament as the team finished the season 34-3.
At USC, Bland was promoted in 2014 to associate head coach — second-in- command to head coach Andy Enfield — and has helped build the Trojans’ basketball program from a perennial loser into a national power.
“One of Bland’s many talents is that of being an elite recruiter and the Trojans have brought in top 20 classes nationally since his arrival,” his biography on the USC athletics website reads.
As a player, Bland transferred to SDSU after two years at Syracuse University. In the 2000-01 season, the Los Angeles native helped lead the team to a Mountain West Conference tournament championship and the school’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1985. As a senior in the 2001-02 season, Bland was a team co-captain and earned second-team all-conference honors.
—City News Service