Saturday, May 15, 2021

New York appeals court upholds bribery convictions of NCAA insiders

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The prosecution case against three NCAA insiders who bribed families of college basketball players was a slam dunk, a federal appeals court in New York City announced Friday.

In a 2-1 decision. the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the prior convictions of consultant Merl Code, aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins and former Adidas executive Jim Gatto.

All three were found guilty in 2018 of paying relatives of prized basketball prospects to enroll at select universities. The insiders hoped to establish a relationship with the players that would generate millions once they turned pro.

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Dawkins and Code argued they were bit players in the wildly corrupt NCAA, where under-the-table cash payments are routinely made to prized “student-athletes.” Rules require that NCAA athletes not receive payments. In theory, they’re splitting time between sports and academics.

But the appeals court ruled it did not need to delve into the NCAA’s seedy underbelly.

“We have no doubt that a successful men’s basketball program is a major source of revenue at certain major universities, but we need not be drawn into the debate over the extent to which college sports is a business,” Judge Denny Chin wrote for the majority.

“Defendants argued that their intent was not to harm but to help the Universities, and they also sought to offer evidence that they were not the only individuals who have paid high school basketball recruits to attend certain universities. The ends, however, do not justify the means, and that others are engaging in improper behavior does not make it lawful.”

In a dissent, Judge Gerard Lynch wrote that the lower court had erred by not allowing some evidence to be presented to the jury and that certain counts against Gatto and Dawkins should be vacated. Gatto was sentenced to nine months in prison.

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Code and Dawkins were also convicted in a related bribery trial involving college basketball coaches. Code faces nine months total and Dawkins faces a year and a half in prison.

The government’s case rested on a novel legal theory: that the universities themselves were victims. By keeping the payments secret, the bribers tricked the universities into granting scholarships to players who were actually ineligible, prosecutors argued.
 

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