LOS ANGELES — Federal prosecutors have charged USC assistant men’s basketball coach Tony Bland with conspiracy to commit bribery, soliciting a bribe and wire fraud as part of a wide-ranging series of indictments related to fraud and corruption in college basketball.
Arizona assistant Emanuel Richardson, Auburn assistant and former Los Angeles Lakers assistant Chuck Person and Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans were also among the 10 people charged in U.S. District Court in New York City in criminal complaints unsealed Tuesday.
During a news conference Tuesday, Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called the allegations a journey into the “dark underbelly of college basketball.”
“Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes,” Kim said. “Managers and financial advisors circling blue chip prospects like coyotes.”
The FBI has been investigating the influence of illicit money on college basketball coaches and athletes since 2015, according to court papers. In building the sprawling case, law enforcement used two undercover agents posing as corrupt advisers, numerous authorized wiretaps and a cooperating witness, those papers said.
“The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so,” the complaints said.
During one conversation prosecutors said was recorded by law enforcement, Bland called the opportunity to steer USC players to certain agents a “gold mine.”
The FBI arrested Bland in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday morning, according to an agency spokeswoman.
Prosecutors allege that Bland met with Christian Dawkins, a former sports agent trying to start his own firm, and an undercover FBI agent on July 29 in a Las Vegas hotel room. Bland said any university players who he controlled would be “coming to” Dawkins, according to prosecutors, and the coach added he had “heavy influence” over his school’s players choosing agents and advisers.
They also discussed the need to “take care of” two USC players referred to in the complaint as “Player-8” and “Player-9.” The players were identified as a rising freshman and a rising sophomore.
In the room, prosecutors said, Dawkins took an envelope containing $13,000 and said he would give it to Bland. The two men left the room together.
“For these men, bribing coaches was a business investment,” Kim said.
Prosecutors also charged Bland with facilitating payments of $9,000 to families of two USC basketball players, using cash-filled envelopes.
During a meeting on USC’s campus Aug. 31 that prosecutors said was recorded by an undercover FBI agent, Bland told Dawkins, the agent and Munish Sood, the chief executive of an investment advisory firm, that if they continued to fund the families of USC players and recruits, the coach would ensure the players would use Dawkins as an agent.
“I definitely can get the players,” Bland told the others at the meeting. “And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”
Dawkins and Sood were among those charged in the case. Prosecutors also allege they worked with three Adidas representatives, also charged in the case, to funnel money to families of players in exchange for their commitment to play at schools that had a sponsorship with the company.
In one meeting also recorded, Dawkins said: “If we take care of everybody, control everything, you can make millions off of one kid.”
Earlier this year, ASM Sports fired Dawkins and his license was revoked by the National Basketball Players Association after allegations he racked up tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges on a player’s credit card. Mike Blanton, USC’s vice president for athletic compliance, said Bland has been placed on administrative leave and that the school has started an internal investigation.
“USC places the highest priority on athletic compliance and is taking this situation very seriously,” Blanton said in a statement. “Accordingly, we have hired former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, and his firm, Freeh Group International Solutions, to work with us in conducting an internal investigation into this matter so that we can take action quickly and appropriately.”
In a statement, USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann said the school was “shocked” to learn of Bland’s alleged involvement.
“USC Athletics maintains the highest standards in athletic compliance across all of our programs and does not tolerate misconduct in any way,” Swann’s statement said. “We will cooperate fully with the investigation and will assist authorities as needed, and if these allegations are true, will take the needed actions.”
Neither Bland nor USC head basketball coach Andy Enfield responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
USC hired Bland from San Diego State in April 2013. At the time, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the new job included a raise to more than $300,000. Bland, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles and played college basketball at Syracuse and San Diego State, is referred to as an “elite recruiter” in his biography on USC’s website.
USC self-imposed sanctions on its basketball program in 2010, in the middle of an NCAA investigation that found a basketball player had taken impermissible benefits. The investigation concluded guard O.J. Mayo and people close to him accepted cash, lodging, transportation, a cellphone, a television, watches, shoes and clothing from Rodney Guillory, an event promoter representing a sports agent.
As part of USC’s sanctions, the team was barred from the 2009-10 postseason, lost one scholarship a year over two seasons, vacated 21 wins from the 2007-08 season and returned about $206,000 it received from the NCAA for participation in the NCAA tournament. The NCAA accepted the penalties and ordered USC to “disassociate” from Mayo and Guillory.
By the 2011-12 season, USC had sunk to a 6-26 record. The Trojans didn’t attain a winning record again until two seasons ago.
Enfield rebuilt the program with waves of strong recruiting classes, helped in part by Bland. USC reached the NCAA tournament two seasons ago and won three tournament games last season. This season, with many returning players and several talented additions, USC is regarded as a favorite in the Pac-12 Conference. And the Trojans have has lined up their best recruiting class in years for next season.
Kim said authorities hadn’t been in touch with the National Collegiate Athletic Association about the investigation until Tuesday. The organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement he is “deeply troubled” by the charges.
“We are still learning the facts of this matter, but these allegations, if true, are profoundly upsetting to me,” Scott said in the statement. “They strike at the heart of the integrity of our programs and of the game that so many people love and play the right way.”
LaVar Ball, founder of Big Baller Brand and father of boys who play for the Lakers, UCLA and Chino Hills High, said no one ever offered him incentives to have his boys play for a particular school.
“I think it’s wrong, but guess what, it’s part of business,” he said. “I have no part of it. My boys have no part of it. That’s where pressure comes in. My boy is in it for the love of the game. We owe nobody nothing.”
Regarding the influence of shoe companies, Ball said: “All of them have to find the next best dude. I have the next best guy. I have three.”
The investigation appears to be far from over. The FBI set up a tip line for those with more information about the case, and William Sweeney, the assistant director in charge of the New York FBI office, had a warning for coaches who may still be involved in similar schemes.
“We have your playbook,” he said.