The recruitment of NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr.
After three long weeks, the Adidas college basketball trial is finally coming to a close.
Closing arguments ended Thursday at the Moynihan U.S. Federal Courthouse in Manhattan, and the jury will reconvene Monday morning at 9:30 to begin deliberations.
“You saw a spectacular set of closing arguments by some fine lawyers,” Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told the 12-member jury before sending them home for the weekend with the instructions to remain “in a state of sterilization about this case” and not to seek information about it from television, newspapers, social media or other sources.
Christian Dawkins, a would-be sports agent, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and Adidas executive James “Jim” Gatto have pleaded not guilty to charges that they committed wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by funneling funds to families of coveted prospects to get them to attend major programs sponsored by the sneaker company.
According to the prosecution, N.C. State, Louisville, Kansas, and Miami, all sponsored by Adidas, were victims of the conspiracy because players whose families received payments were ineligible and the schools suffered financially as a result.
“To Jim, the decision that you reach will be the most important moment in his life,” Michael Schachter, Gatto’s defense attorney, told the jury.
Lawyers for the three defendants haven’t disputed that there was an effort to pay the players’ families. But they’ve argued that the schools had to be aware of what was going on, and that neither they nor the NCAA suffered any harm.
Schachter argued Thursday that Kansas coach Bill Self and former Louisville coach Rick Pitino knew about payments to players and his client was acting on their behalf to help Adidas and their schools, not to defraud them.
During a 1-hour, 10-minute closing argument, Schachter recalled testimony, including from former Adidas consultant and government witness Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola, that Schachter says shows the coaches wanted the payments to be made.
”There’s not a single example where any of these payments were Jim’s idea,” Schachter said.
In N.C. State’s case, Gassnola testified last week that he gave former N.C. state assistant Orlando Early tens of thousands of dollars and helped funnel it to the family of Dennis Smith Jr. to secure the basketball player’s commitment to the Wolfpack.
“I gave Orlando Early $40,000 to give to the family of Dennis Smith,” Gassnola said.
Gassnola testified that he believed he was working on Adidas’ behalf to help one of their flagship schools keep Smith Jr., so that he wouldn’t decommit, or defect, to another, potentially Nike-sponsored, university.
As for Kansas, Gassnola testified he paid $2,500 to the guardian of then-recruit Silvio De Sousa, now a Kansas sophomore, and also planned to pay the guardian $20,000.
De Sousa committed to Kansas on Aug. 30, 2017. Self had a five-minute phone conversation with Gatto a day later, during a time the FBI was wiretapping Gatto, but the conversation was not recorded because of a “technical issue.”
“Kansas’ head coach knew of and asked for a payment to be made to Silvio De Sousa’s handler,” Schacter said Thursday. “Coach Self and Coach (Kurtis) Townsend knew of and asked for this payment to be made to (de Sousa’s guardian) Fenny (Falmagne).”
He added: “Coach Self, in T.J. Gassnola’s mind, speaks for Kansas, and Kansas wants Adidas to help Kansas recruit players. Nike does the same thing for their schools, and if Adidas doesn’t do the same, they’re going to lose their schools to Nike.”
Of the former Louisville coach, whom Gatto called to discuss Louisville recruit Brian Bowen before Bowen committed on June 1, 2017, Schachter said: “Coach Pitino knows exactly why Jim is calling. To discuss a player with Coach Pitino.” Dawkins, Code and Gatto schemed with Bowen’s father to funnel him $100,000 in exchange for his son committing to Louisville.
Edward Diskant, the government’s lead prosecutor, meantime, argued that “the coaches at the universities weren’t allowed to be doing this” and there was “no mention” of Self or Pitino ever discussing money.
Schachter further argued that not only did Pitino and Self know was going on with the payments to the players, but that Adidas did as well.
”Adidas finance was aware that $750,000 was paid out to some AAU team in Springfield, Mass. (Gassnola’s New England Playaz). What does that tell you about what Jim’s bosses knew about what he was doing?” Schachter said to the jury during his closing argument.
”The Nike and Under Armour schools are doing the same thing.”
Follow @AdamZagoria on Twitter.
The Kansas City Star’s Jesse Newell and The News & Observer’s Steve Wiseman and Jonathan M. Alexander contributed to this report. Follow @AdamZagoria on Twitter.