November 14, 2017 / 6:26 PM / 2 years ago

Two NCAA basketball coaches plead not guilty to bribery, fraud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two college basketball coaches on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to fraud charges filed in New York federal court after a two-year probe of claims that promising players were bribed to enroll at schools sponsored by apparel maker Adidas AG.

FILE PHOTO: Lamont Evans (C), former associate head basketball coach for Oklahoma State University, exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse, following an appearance for bribery and fraud charges in connection with college basketball recruiting, in New York, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Chuck Person, a now-suspended assistant coach at Auburn University and former National Basketball Association player, and Rashan Michel, a former NBA official and clothing store owner, pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, among others, according to federal prosecutors and an attorney for Michel.

Representatives for Person did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In September, prosecutors said they uncovered two major schemes, including one in which apparel executives, financial advisers and others bribed assistant college coaches to influence sought-after players to join them and retain their services.

The charges reflect what prosecutors called the “criminal influence of money” on National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball and the conflicts that could arise from the drive to win and the need to provide student-athletes an education.

Person, 53, was charged with receiving $91,500 in bribe payments in exchange for steering elite Auburn University players to certain financial advisers and agents. The payments were initially arranged by Michel, 43, who had a close relationship with Person, prosecutors contend.

It was not immediately clear how much money Michel is alleged to have received in bribe payments.

In the second scheme, prosecutors say high school-aged players and their families were allegedly bribed by James Gatto, a senior executive at German sportswear supplier Adidas, and Merl Code, a person affiliated with the company, to enroll prospective players at colleges that were sponsored by the athletic brand. The two men were also charged in the corruption probe.

Adidas officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The other coaches charged are Anthony Bland, from the University of Southern California; Lamont Evans, from Oklahoma State University and formerly the University of South Carolina; and Emanuel “Book” Richardson, from the University of Arizona.

That group is due to appear in court on Wednesday.

Person and Michel were charged with multiple counts, including bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes, honest service fraud, wire fraud and travel act offenses. If convicted, each faces up to 80 years in prison.

Editing by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler

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