Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

White punks on dope

I’m betting when the gory details are revealed about this SEC West Crime of the Century, we’ll discover that either alcohol or fraternities were involved.  Or, even more likely, both.

Advertisements

18 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment, SEC Football

Victim of a victimless crime

Joe Monaco, a spokesman for the University of Kansas, said in a statement: “Earlier today, we learned that the University of Kansas is named as a victim in a federal indictment. The indictment does not suggest any wrongdoing by the university, its coaches or its staff. We will cooperate fully with investigators in this matter.”

Considering that Kansas just played in the Final Four with a player alleged to have received a payment, that’s some victimhood thing you got going there, Joe.  Er’rybody got paid!

1 Comment

Filed under Crime and Punishment, The NCAA

When crime does pay

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.

23 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment, The NCAA

“Do you want to f— with a baller, baby?”

What is it with the Petrino family?

“I stand behind my track record of handling allegations of inappropriate conduct toward women swiftly and decisively,” said Petrino, who was hired in December 2012.

Yeah, sure.

Other missteps included:

▪  Miller told Moscow Police and football head coach Paul Petrino that Level threatened to slap her in the training room. Petrino doesn’t remember that conversation, he said, but it’s reflected in the police report generated that day. Spear says he was never informed of that incident.

▪  Jameson was told in a meeting led by Spear that the university couldn’t investigate her assault because it happened off campus, she said. Spear says he operated under an outdated university policy that didn’t include off-campus incidents. The Department of Education released extensive Title IX guidance in 2011 that clarified universities’ obligation to investigate off-campus incidents of sexual harassment or assault. Idaho changed its policy in March 2012 to comply — more than a year before Jameson’s case. Also, some of the alleged harassment occurred on campus.

▪ Spear wrote in an email to Jameson’s parents after the assault that Level was “not a threat” but also indicated that he’d told Petrino to keep him away from the school’s female athletes.

▪  Level was dismissed from the team 16 days after Jameson’s accusation, after Moscow Police Lt. Dave Lehmitz found surveillance video that corroborated Jameson’s assault complaint and determined he could cite Level for misdemeanor battery. But Jameson wasn’t told of Level’s fate for several weeks, she said. During that time, she considered transferring to another school to get away from him.

▪  Spear, Petrino and swimming and diving coach Mark Sowa were told May 7, 2013, in a meeting with the university’s legal counsel that they hadn’t followed Title IX guidance with Jameson’s complaint, Spear said. He didn’t tell Jameson that, or apologize, until Feb. 13, 2018 — nearly five years later.

I’d hate to see what slow and indecisive looks like.

2 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment

Crime may not pay, but amateurism does.

This piece, on what I see more and more as the utter absurdity of the FBI attempting to criminalize the NCAA rule book, is so damned good.  Here’s the lengthy prelude:

Last September, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that federal charges had been brought against major figures in college basketball. A group of 10 assistant coaches, agents and sneaker executives were indicted with conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation of bribes, mail fraud and wire fraud. The defendants are accused of paying—“bribing”—some of the nation’s most heralded high school basketball players, along with their families.

The purported bribes had a simple objective: persuade star recruits to attend a particular college and embrace the sneaker company sponsoring that college. A year or two later, those players would turn professional and pursue the National Basketball Association (NBA). At that time, the players would hire agents who had previously partaken in the conspiracy to bribe them. Through those agents, the players would sign multi-million dollar contracts with NBA teams and also lucrative endorsement deals with their alma mater’s sneaker company.

It was a multi-year, multi-step transaction in which everyone seemingly gained: the player and his family, who might be economically disadvantaged, received five or six-figure payments; the college matriculated a star player who would help the basketball program win games and, in turn, generate broadcasting, merchandise and ticket revenue; the agent earned valuable commissions as well as professional recognition; and the shoe company secured the endorsement of a young and marketable phenom who would help the company sell products.

NCAA Amateurism Rules as the Foundation for Criminal Charges

There’s a reason why many regard this sequence of mutually beneficial events as unseemly or even criminal. It’s the same reason why the sinister-sounding “bribe,” rather than the evenhanded “trade” or “exchange,” is the noun most typically used to describe payments to high school recruits. That reason: the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a.k.a. the NCAA.

The NCAA is a voluntary organization that features nearly 1,300 members, most of whom are colleges and college athletic conferences. Founded in the early 20th century to make college sports safer, the NCAA now claims to aid college athletes in balancing their “academic, social and athletics” experiences. To that end, the NCAA has promulgated numerous rules that fall under the umbrella of “amateurism.”

In its broadest conception, amateurism refers to the principle that college athletes ought to be clearly distinguished from professional athletes. College athletes are, after all, students, whose studies presumably take priority over sports. If sports agents and financial temptations distract students, they might lose their academic focus. They might also become less connected to their classmates and squander the traditional college experience.

There’s the romance and the foundation for the romance.  Now comes the economic consequence.

With building frustration over the inability of star college athletes to fully reap the value of their labor and identity, it is not surprising that a “black market” for paying recruits has materialized. But in reality, such payments are hardly a revelation—they have, much to the NCAA’s dismay, been taking place for decades. The NCAA simply has limited resources to police interactions with recruits.

Human nature, for the win.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and as long as there are sources of money and kids with valuable services to acquire, there’s only so much the NCAA can do about it.

Enter the FBI.  Enter the absurdity.

The government’s theory of crime stresses the harm caused when colleges enroll bribed athletes on scholarships. The government claims a stake in this harm given that it funds colleges through grants, loans, financial aid guarantees and other instruments. Colleges that enroll ineligible scholarship athletes could have used those same scholarships to recruit eligible athletes. Those colleges also become at risk of serious NCAA penalties. In that sense, the government is something of a partner to colleges in ensuring that college athletes play by the rules. Further, when bribes take place across state lines and use the Postal Service and wires, fraud charges are possible.

Attorneys for the indicted defendants dismiss this theory as implausible and disingenuous. First, they stress the absence of supporting case law—when has it ever been a crime to offer financial incentives to a high school student to attend a college? They also contend the Justice Department is attempting to criminalize NCAA amateurism rules. Further, the alleged victims—the colleges—may actually benefit: a star recruit joins a school and helps that school win games and generate assorted kinds of institutional value, be it revenue, increased student applications, enhanced alumni relations and greater alumni giving. To that end, as my late and esteemed colleague Cheryl Hanna once wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “the purpose of criminal law is to serve the greater public good.” A sensible read of the situation suggests that the Justice Department has its work cut out.

The supposed “wrongness” of payments to recruits should also be questioned. As acknowledged above, amateurism may provide a good deal for many college students. But for the superstars who generate considerable revenue and who attend college mainly to hone their athletic skills, the deal doesn’t appear so good. This is particularly apparent when viewed in conjunction with eligibility requirements for the NBA and the National Football League (NFL). The NBA and NFL require that players wait one and three years, respectively, after high school before they are eligible. While young basketball stars can bypass college to sign contracts in other (albeit inferior) professional leagues, football players are essentially stuck. There is no substitute for Division I college football for college-age players.

If these athletes’ special talent were instead in music or acting, there would be no “age restriction” to turning pro. If they excelled at different sports, like hockey, golf, tennis, or baseball, they could turn pro right out of high school, if not sooner. The reality is they thrived in the two sports where the college game is a de facto minor league for the pro leagues.

The only reason this is a problem is because the schools, through their voluntary association known to us as the NCAA, have created the structure that has allowed it to fester.  The FBI’s presence doesn’t change that.

So, yes, that’s absurd, but you know what may be even more absurd?  Expecting the same actors to reform the structure in a way that doesn’t benefit them.  You want an example?  Okay, I’ve got one for you.

The Big East knows it doesn’t have the leverage to force the NBA to do something straight-up about its one-and-done rule, so it’s come up with a suggestion for a power play over the group with whom it does have leverage.

The Big East’s plan calls for the elimination of the NBA’s one-and-done rule, which prohibits its teams from drafting players until they are at least 19 or a year removed from high school.

Two-or-none would be an NCAA policy requiring basketball players who decide to go to college to commit for at least two seasons. Meanwhile, high school players who declare for the NBA draft would forfeit future college eligibility.

Tough luck, then, if you’re a high-schooler who submits his name to the NBA and doesn’t get drafted.  There’s no logic to that, other than to force kids who, remember, can’t consult with advisers and retain college eligibility, to stay in school for two years.

Also, keep in mind there’s no legal way the schools can enforce such an arrangement on their own.  A player leaves after his first year of school for the NBA and what’s the school gonna do about that?  In other words, the only way this proposal works is for the NBA to agree to abide by it as well.  Thus, the Big East’s reform amounts to nothing more than an agreement between the schools and the NBA to collude actively to prevent student-athletes from being paid for their skills for a longer period than is already the case now.  If you can explain to me how that benefits the student-athlete or how it curtails the black market the schools have created, I’d love to hear it.

Oh, and don’t miss that the Big East also thinks it would be a swell idea for the NCAA to regulate agents.  Oy.  It’s hard to tell whether these people are bigger idiots or assholes.  One thing’s for sure — they’ll never miss an opportunity to look out for themselves.  Remember that, FBI.

44 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

Black market blues

The more I read about the FBI investigation of college basketball, the less convincing it seems.  And I wasn’t very convinced when the news first dropped.

First of all, the heart of the matter is this:  the feds are attempting to criminalize NCAA rules violations.

The charges at the core of these cases are based on an unusual legal theory that casts universities — who stood to benefit from recruits playing for wildly profitable basketball teams — as victims of fraud. What prosecutors call bribes, legal experts note, would be considered signing bonuses and referral fees in other industries. The payments are illicit only because the NCAA prohibits amateur athletes from making money from their talents and bars coaches from facilitating, and profiting from, meetings between agents and athletes.

“If you take away the NCAA rules, there’s no criminal case here,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at George Washington University. “There are some legitimate questions about whether this was a wise use of resources.”

There are more questions than that, it seems to me.  But that’s a good place to start.

Perhaps a good place to finish is by asking who’s been hurt.

The prosecution’s theory of the case has raised eyebrows in legal circles. Gatto, Code and Dawkins defrauded Louisville and Miami, prosecutors argue, by conspiring to pay families of top recruits to ensure they attended the schools, despite knowing this would break NCAA rules. Their scheme “created a risk of tangible economic harm,” the indictment states, because if these payments came to light, the NCAA could have penalized Louisville and Miami, potentially depriving the schools of revenue disbursements from the lucrative men’s basketball tournament.

Perhaps the most notable criticism of this theory has come from Eliason, former assistant U.S. attorney in D.C. who specialized in white collar crime and ran his district’s public corruption unit for two years.

The typical fraud case, Eliason explained in a phone interview, includes a few hallmarks: an intent to harm the victim, deception and a benefit at the victim’s expense.

“Those are all absent here. These guys didn’t want to harm the universities; they wanted to help them . . . and according to the prosecutors, they were working with top representatives of these universities’ basketball programs,” Eliason said. “How can you say the university was deceived?”

This is like the worm eating itself.

According to Haney, the lawyer for Dawkins, this theory is particularly dubious with regards to Louisville, which just became the first school in the history of the NCAA to be stripped of a men’s basketball title, over an earlier scandal in which a basketball assistant hired prostitutes to entertain teenage recruits.

“They were documented to be entertaining recruits with strippers and prostitutes, and now this same school has somehow been victimized by my client?” Haney said. “They got what they wanted: a five-star recruit. . . . They’ve made millions of dollars off of five-star recruits, and they’ve cheated to get them.”

It seems logically inconsistent to punish a criminal victim, but that’s just what the NCAA did with Louisville.  Now it’s the federal criminal system’s turn to have a crack.

The four assistant coaches arrested, accused of taking bribes to steer recruits to Dawkins, a business manager and specialty suitmaker, are scheduled for separate trials in the early 2019. Those cases involve a longer list of criminal counts — including conspiracy to commit bribery and solicitation of bribes — but NCAA rules again are central to the cases. The victims of these bribery schemes, the indictments state, are not the athletes these coaches agreed to influence but the schools, under the same legal theory that the coaches’ actions exposed Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Southern California to potential NCAA penalties.

“The criminality of all of these cases rest upon these NCAA rules,” Eliason said. “Maybe the NCAA needs to clean house . . . but should it really be the subject of this massive federal criminal investigation, when nobody was harmed?”

This is nuts.  Especially when you consider the bottom line reason this stuff goes on.

These figures may seem exorbitant for the services of a teenage basketball player, but according to one economist, they’re likely bargains. For his 2016 paper, “Paying NCAA Athletes,” David Berri, a professor at Southern Utah University, analyzed the finances of the 2014-15 Duke team that won the national championship and speculated about how much money the players would have earned if, like in the NBA, they shared about 50 percent of the team’s revenue. That Duke team generated $33.7 million, according to data the school filed with the Department of Education. If Duke had been forced to pay its players half of that, the average player would have made $1.4 million, Berri calculated.

“And that’s just average. The top players in college basketball are worth well over $2 million or $3 million per year,” Berri said. “If you’re paying $100,000 to get one of these players on campus, that’s a good deal.”

Creating a false economy and then watching things spiral out of control is peak NCAA.  Yeah, I’m sure they’ll do a great job cleaning house.

I’m looking forward to the coming bang-up job to clean up college football, too.

16 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment, The NCAA

King Midas in reverse

Could there be any development somehow both more appropriate and more ironic to the federal criminal investigation of college basketball recruiting than this?

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday morning that an FBI agent involved in the case in an undercover capacity is under criminal investigation for misappropriating money for drinking, gambling and eating. Ultimately, the Journal reported, it could compromise the FBI agent’s ability to serve as a witness for the prosecution.

And the “No shit, Sherlock” Award today goes to this genius.

“This is a bad development for the prosecution,” said a person with direct knowledge of the case. “The general public and sports fans were promised a bill of goods by the prosecutors. It’s pretty clear early on in this case, they’re not the white knights they said they were.”

‘Ya think?

This is what happens when you try to give criminal enforcement cover for a corrupt organization.  It rubs off.  And since we’re talking about the NCAA here, surely there’s more to come.

8 Comments

Filed under Crime and Punishment, See You In Court, The NCAA