The recruitment of NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr.
Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola, the director of a Massachusetts-based grassroots basketball team whose communications with N.C. State were subpoenaed in January by the federal government as part of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, has pleaded guilty to paying high school players’ families so those players would commit to certain colleges, according to Bloomberg News. Gassnola is also cooperating with the investigation.
Court documents made public on Friday show Gassnola admitted to conspiracy to commit wire fraud between 2015 and 2017, when he helped arrange payments to high school players to secure their commitment to certain colleges. Such payments violate the NCAA’s amateurism rules, which would make the players ineligible to play college basketball.
N.C. State declined to comment.
N.C. State’s involvement in the investigation appears to center around Dennis Smith Jr., the sought-after guard from Fayetteville who played one season with the Wolfpack in 2016-17 before heading to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. He was heavily recruited to N.C. State by then-coach Mark Gottfried and then-assistant Orlando Early.
An indictment made public earlier this month revealed a scheme in which James Gatto, a former adidas executive who is facing federal charges, agreed to funnel $40,000 through an unnamed N.C. State coach to Smith’s father in September 2015. Smith and his father were not named in the federal indictment.
Smith was said to be having second thoughts about playing at N.C. State.
The FBI investigation said the $40,000 was withdrawn from an account that an unnamed co-conspirator controlled and was delivered to the N.C. State coach in North Carolina. The coach gave the co-conspirator the impression he would deliver the money to Smith’s father, Dennis Smith Sr. Gatto then submitted sham invoices to adidas so he could reimburse the co-conspirator the $40,000.
Gassnola is the director of the New England Playaz basketball team, which is affiliated with adidas. The NCAA banned his teams from participating in summer events in July 2012 because of his relationship with NBA agent Andy Miller.
N.C. State disassociated itself from Miller that year.
Last February, Yahoo! reported that documents gathered by the FBI in the case show Smith received $73,000 in loans from Christian Dawkins, an associate of Miller’s ASM sports agency.
Dawkins was among 10 arrested last September when the FBI and the Department of Justice made its investigation of college basketball public.
Gatto was also arrested and indicted last fall in the case.
Among the documents the subpoena in January asked N.C. State officials to turn over were all communications between any member of the athletics department and Gatto, Christopher Rivers, Gassnola, Anthony Coleman, Merl Code and “any other representative of adidas.”
In the documents made public Friday, federal prosecutors said Gassnola is providing information helpful to the government’s investigation.
“Prior to being charged, the defendant participated in numerous proffer sessions during which he has disclosed his criminal activities and those of others,” prosecutors said of Gassnola, according to the Bloomberg report. “The government anticipates that grand jury subpoenas may be issued based on information provided by the defendant, and that information provided by the defendant may also be presented to a grand jury in this district for purposes of obtaining an indictment.”
Smith Jr. and Smith Sr. have not been indicted, nor have any N.C. State coaches .
The indictment earlier this month said Dawkins, Gatto and Code were involved with payments to players that attended N.C. State, Kansas, Miami and Louisville.
The original indictments and arrests last fall included players and/or coaches from Oklahoma State, Arizona, Southern California and South Carolina.
Gassnola entered his guilty plea on March 30. Federal prosecutors asked that the plea agreement remain sealed and the judge complied.
“Exposure of the defendant’s cooperation would hinder law-enforcement officials’ ability to continue their investigation of individuals who have not yet been arrested and charges that have not yet been brought,” Assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Eli Mark said in a March 30 court filing.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan ordered the documents unsealed on April 12, but they didn’t appear on the public docket until Friday, according to Bloomberg.