knitted ugg boots Two days in August are at heart of federal bribery case against USC basketball assistant Tony Bland
Tony Bland had a problem.
The USC men’s basketball associate head coach wanted to meet with would be sports agent Christian Dawkins on Aug. 31. But during a phone call that morning, Bland told Dawkins about a conflicting appointment with a member of the school’s compliance staff.
After Bland confirmed Dawkins was alone, according to the federal criminal complaint filed in September, the men discussed funneling “bread” to associates of two USC players. In exchange, the players, when they became professionals, would use the services of Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood.
The coach, who bragged about his influence over USC players in previous conversations, had one concern. He didn’t want to touch the money.
“I want it all to go through you,” Bland told Dawkins.
Two days in late August are at the heart of the case against Bland, one of 10 men charged in the wide ranging college basketball bribery and corruption investigation.
A federal grand jury in New York indicted Bland and seven other defendants Tuesday. The coach hasn’t entered a plea, but his attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said the alleged conduct isn’t criminal and his client is being scapegoated.
Tony Bland, the USC assistant coach charged last week in the college basketball corruption and fraud scandal, has retained a veteran New York attorney who defended John Gotti Jr. and represents alleged drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The day before the phone call, Dawkins and Sood gathered at a Los Angeles restaurant with the relative of a USC player or recruit, identified in the complaint as Player 8. An undercover FBI agent joined them. He posed as a financial backer of a businessman actually a cooperating witness in the case who was friendly with Dawkins. The undercover agent recorded the meeting.
The complaint provides two clues to the player’s identify: First, he had recently committed to play for the school. Second, the player was 17 years old at the time of the meeting.
The player is described in the indictment as a “rising freshman who would be joining the University of Southern California’s men’s basketball team,” but provides no further details. The 15 players currently on USC’s roster, including three true freshman, were all 18 or older in August.
Attorneys for Bland and Dawkins didn’t respond to questions about the meeting.
At the restaurant, the New Jersey based Sood described his wealth management services, then said: “The sooner we work with [the players], sooner we understand their needs, we’re better prepared and they’re better prepared and their families are better prepared.”
Dawkins added that all involved would discuss the arrangement in more detail “when you feel the kid is mature enough to be able to have a business conversation, a grown man conversation, to understand who he is and what’s about to happen.”
The relative expected Player 8’s mother to manage his day to day affairs. The youngster would meet with Dawkins, Sood and the others when he was “mature enough to understand” the arrangement.
Dawkins, who is 24, according to prosecutors, wasn’t much older than the player. The Michigan native listed his location as “worldwide” on his Twitter biography. He started a blog as a teenager with scouting reports on high school players. College coaches could buy a yearlong subscription for $600. area youth coach who encountered Dawkins at grassroots basketball events described him as a “hustler,” part of college basketball’s underground economy of quasi agents, runners and hangers on who latch onto players with professional potential. A former high major college coach who retains deep ties to the sport said many coaches didn’t take Dawkins seriously. But some did.
When Joon H. Kim unveiled the bribery and corruption case that has shaken college basketball during a news conference in September, the first question had nothing to do with the undercover FBI agents, wiretaps, hidden cameras or cash filled envelopes. The complaint said it contained $4,000. When they left the restaurant, prosecutors allege Dawkins received the money. He walked off with the relative.
The next day, Bland met Sood and Dawkins at a restaurant on USC’s campus. The undercover agent again recorded the conversation. Bland told the men if they funded the families of USC players and recruits, he would make certain the players retained Dawkins and Sood, according to the complaint.
“My part of the job can be to get the parents, and to introduce them to Christian [Dawkins] and say, ‘Hey, I trust him and vouch for him,’ ” Bland said.
The coach added: “I can definitely get the players. . And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”
Bland’s biography, since scrubbed from USC’s website, described him as an “elite recruiter.” He favored the RecruitOrDie hashtag. Among social media pictures of expensive dinners, trips abroad and a Rolex watch, Bland included a snapshot of a fortune cookie slip. It read: “You have a charming way with words.” Those acquainted with him agreed. He developed a reputation as an affable, well connected person who usually picked up the bill after a night out.