This is easily my favorite part of the NCAA basketball scandal:
When federal prosecutors announced last September the arrests of 10 men as part of an FBI investigation into the college basketball black market, one of the central figures was Brad Augustine, an Orlando-area youth basketball program director accused of negotiating deals to steer his best players to preferred colleges, for a price.
Augustine agreed to send one player to Louisville, prosecutors alleged in a criminal complaint, after an undercover FBI agent handed him an envelope full of cash meant for the player’s mother. Augustine helped broker a deal to send another player to Miami, as long as an Adidas executive agreed to pay the player’s family $150,000, according to prosecutors, who alleged a coach at Miami later identified as Jim Larranaga had knowledge of the negotiations.
A 32-year-old whose previous legal troubles consisted of traffic tickets and toll violations, Augustine faced a potential prison sentence of up to 80 years on charges including wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy.
But in February, prosecutors dropped all charges against Augustine, without explanation. Two weeks ago, in a court hearing in New York, one of the lawyers on the case offered a possible reason: After his arrest, Augustine apparently told federal prosecutors he never intended to pay the players and their families, and had kept the little money actually paid out in these deals for himself.
Beautiful. And absurd.
During a March 22 hearing, however, a lawyer representing Jim Gatto — an Adidas executive accused of agreeing to pay $150,000 if Augustine convinced 1Family star Nassir Little to commit to Miami — discussed the letter in open court.
“Mr. Augustine’s statement as summarized by the government . . . directly contradicts the allegations of the indictment . . . with respect to Mr. Little, Mr. Augustine had no intention of taking any money and handing it to Mr. Little,” said attorney Michael Schachter, according to a transcript.
“Mr. Augustine says that, in fact, he was not in on the scheme. In fact, there was not going to be any payment that was going to be made to Mr. Little. But effectively he was in his own scheme to rip off Mr. Gatto,” said Schachter, who was arguing the judge should force prosecutors to turn over transcripts or FBI agent notes of discussions with Augustine, because they may contain evidence favorable to Gatto and the other defendants.
Seriously, you can’t make this shit up. It’s like the NCAA has a stupidity virus that infects everyone who comes in contact with its attempt to enforce amateurism.
That federal prosecutors apparently decided to drop charges against Augustine after he told them he hadn’t been brokering deals to steer recruits to specific college programs, but instead had kept money for himself, is a reminder of the unusual legal theory at the core of much of the criminal charges produced so far in the FBI probe.
Fraud is a crime that requires a victim. When Augustine was charged with wire fraud, the alleged victims were Miami and Louisville, prosecutors allege, as the schools could have been sanctioned by the NCAA, and sustained financial penalties, if it had come to light some of their players were profiting from their talents.
“So if the money doesn’t go to the athlete, the FBI and prosecutors are fine with it?” said Andy Schwarz, an economist and outspoken critic of the NCAA’s amateurism rules. “How does that make any sense?”
Sense is optional.