USC assistant coach among those charged in NCAA fraud, corruption scheme

SAN DIEGO — Former San Diego State University basketball player and coach Tony Bland, who has been an assistant coach at the University of Southern California since 2013, is one of four college basketball coaches arrested Tuesday on federal charges of taking bribes as part of a wide-ranging corruption scheme.

Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, formally announced the charges at a news conference in Manhattan. Bland is one of 10 people charged with federal counts that include wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy stemming from an FBI investigation that began in 2015.

The assistant coaches and associate head coaches arrested overnight were Bland, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, Chuck Person of Auburn University and Emanuel “Book” Richardson of the University of Arizona.

 

According to Kim and a partially unsealed criminal complaint, the accused also include managers, financial advisers and representatives from a “major international sportswear company,” believed to be Adidas.

Among those arrested was Adidas’ director of global sports marketing, James “Jim” Gatto, according to reports.

The defendants are alleged to have engaged in two separate fraudulent schemes. In one, college coaches were bribed with payments ranging from $13,000 to $100,000 to pressure college basketball players in their programs to sign with certain managers and financial advisers when they left school and turned professional, federal prosecutors allege.

“The college coaches took cash bribes in exchange for directing players and their families to their bribers,” Kim alleged. “For these men, bribing coaches was a business investment. If and when young players turned pro, that would mean big bucks for them.”

The second scheme involved Adidas personnel allegedly paying star high-school recruits to attend universities sponsored by Adidas, according to federal prosecutors. In one such case, a player was allegedly paid $150,000 to attend a university sponsored by the sportswear company, widely reported to be the University of Louisville.

In a recorded conversation, Bland allegedly accepted a bribe and told the person paying him, “I can definitely mold the players, and put them in the laps of you guys.”

“These coaches abused that trust placed in them by the players and their families,” Kim alleged. “They violated the duties that they owed to their schools.”

USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann released a statement saying the university was caught off-guard by the news.

“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, andn if these allegations are true, will take the needed actions.”

Bland was an assistant coach at SDSU 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.