Three defendants were found guilty on Wednesday of running pay-for-play operations that influenced high school recruits to play for specific college basketball programs, as a jury returned the guilty verdicts following a three-week criminal trial in a New York federal court.

College basketball fraud trial Adidas
Former Adidas executive James Gatto was one of three men found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by a federal jury on Wednesday. (Image: AP/Mark Lennihan)

Adidas official James Gatto, former Adidas employee Merl Code, and Christian Dawkins, who formerly worked for NBA agent Andy Miller, were all found guilty on felony counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Money Given to Families to Steer Basketball Recruits

The jury came to the verdict after more than 19 hours of deliberation over three days. US District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan has set a March 5 sentencing date for the three men, with attorneys saying that federal sentencing guidelines suggest then defendants might each face two to four years in federal prison.

Code, Dawkins, and Gatto had been accused of giving Adidas money to funnel top recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools, including Kansas, Louisville, and North Carolina State. The government argued that these schools were defrauded, as they would likely not have given scholarships to those players had they known they had been paid in violation of NCAA regulations.

The money would go to family members of the recruits, such as in the case of Brian Tugs Bowen. The trio was accused of conspiring to give $100,000 to Bowens father in order to influence the player to sign with Louisville in 2017. Bowen is now playing professionally in Australia, and his father who testified during the trial about the bidding war for his sons talents only ever received $25,000 before federal authorities moved in to arrest the defendants.

The goals of the scheme didnt end when the players signed with colleges, either. The defendants were also accused of influencing those same prospects to sign with Adidas and pick certain agents and financial planners once they turned pro.

Other players who have been accused of being influenced by the group include former Kansas player Billy Preston and current Kansas player Silvio De Sousa. Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self said that De Sousa currently a sophomore would be kept out of games until an eligibility review could be completed.

Pitino Lawyer Says Trial Vindicates Former Coach

According to US Attorney Robert S. Khuzami, the verdicts show that the three men not only played fast and loose with NCAA rules, but also broke the law for their own gain.

Todays convictions expose an underground culture of illicit payments, deception and corruption in the world of college basketball, Khuzami said in a statement. As a jury has now found, the defendants not only deceived universities into issuing scholarships under false pretenses, they deprived the universities of their economic rights and tarnished an ideal which makes college sports a beloved tradition by so many fans all over the world.

While the verdicts may send a chill down the spine of many involved in college basketball, including coaches, athletic directors, and officials at major shoe companies, one man may feel vindicated after the trial. Attorney Mac Mukasey, who represents former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, issued a statement Thursday saying that no one with any degree of credibility implicated Pitino, and that the defendants in the case were concealing their scheme from schools, suggesting Pitino would have had no knowledge of what was happening.

Pitino was not mentioned in the federal complaint that led to the trial, and has maintained that he knew nothing of any plan to pay Bowens family. However, Louisville fired the coach last October after the investigation was announced.

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