Originally published October 2, 2018 at 12:17p.m., updated October 2, 2018 at 08:26p.m.
An attorney for a former Adidas executive on Tuesday admitted that her client paid $20,000 to get Silvio De Sousa to attend the University of Kansas to play basketball.
Casey Donnelly, an attorney for former Adidas executive Jim Gatto, made the admission Tuesday during a trial in New York City aiming to tackle corruption in college basketball, according to a report from Yahoo Sports.
Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code and aspiring basketball agent Christian Dawkins are facing conspiracy and fraud charges. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark repeatedly said that schools like KU are victims because they were unaware of the payments to their players and urged a Manhattan federal court jury to convict the three men of fraud charges, saying their lies put multiple schools at risk of NCAA sanctions and the loss of millions of dollars.
Defense lawyers, though, placed the blame largely on the schools’ lust for basketball glory, saying blue-chip athletes were used to attract tens of millions of dollars in donations and revenues.
Gatto made the payment regarding De Sousa after being requested to do so, Donnelly said in opening statements. The attorney did not specify who made the request. Donnelly said that Gatto made the payment only after rival shoe company “Under Armour had paid for De Sousa to (commit) to the University of Maryland.”
“Jim was asked if Jim could match the offer so (De Sousa) could go to Kansas,” Donnelly said, not specifically naming who asked for the offer to be matched.
Previous indictments have made allegations that indirectly linked De Sousa and his guardian to the college basketball scandal. But Tuesday’s statements by Donnelly are the first time Gatto has acknowledged making a payment to bring De Sousa to KU.
Gatto’s attorney acknowledges he violated NCAA rules.
“Jim Gatto broke NCAA rules,” Donnelly said. “NCAA rules are not laws.”
It is unclear how Tuesday’s admission may affect De Sousa and the KU basketball program. De Sousa played last year on the Jayhawks’ Final Four team and is returning for his sophomore season.
In court, Gatto’s attorney did not specifically mention any KU coaches, but the attorney did repeatedly state that Gatto acted at the wishes of coaches in general, according to the article by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel.
KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self had no comment when reached by the Journal-World Tuesday afternoon. Joe Monaco, a KU spokesman, declined to comment on the trial.
“It is not appropriate for the university to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing,” Monaco said. “As we have said all along, the prosecution has not suggested any wrongdoing by the university or its coaches. We will continue to cooperate as requested throughout the trial.”
Although KU is considered the victim, De Sousa and the university could be facing NCAA code violations, Tom Yeager, retired commissioner for the Colonial Athletic Association who also served on the NCAA committee for infractions, told the Journal-World on Tuesday.
“Obviously it has to be processed through the NCAA system, but if it’s accurate, there could be eligibility consequences for the student athlete and then questions the university would have to wrestle with,” he said of the De Sousa implication in court. “It has to go through the process that it’s factual and credible.”
The main issue would be establishing whether the allegation that De Sousa accepted money is a fact.
Yeager said that through the NCAA process it could take some time to prove, but if the court proves it to be factual during the trial, the NCAA could move much more quickly. But being implicated by Gatto’s attorney on Tuesday is not enough evidence yet to consider it fact.
Gatto has been accused of making payments that were used to lure multiple players to several other schools, in addition to KU. Those schools technically have been listed as victims in the case, as well.
During the trial, Mark, the U.S. attorney, began his opening statement by describing how $20,000 in cash provided by Gatto was stuffed in an envelope and handed to the father of a highly sought-after high school prospect from Michigan, Brian Bowen Jr., at a meeting last year in a New Jersey parking lot.
It was a down payment in a scheme to get Bowen to attend Louisville, an Adidas-sponsored program that could launch him into the NBA, where aspiring agent Dawkins could represent him, Mark said. When the payment to the Bowen family was uncovered, Louisville pulled his scholarship and fired its legendary coach, Rick Pitino.
“This is what corruption in college basketball looks like,” the prosecutor told the jury.
Prosecutors say recordings from wiretaps and testimony of cooperators will show that Gatto, Dawkins and Code were behind similar payoffs to players sought by Kansas and North Carolina State that sometimes involved bidding wars with Nike, Mark said.
Donnelly said Gatto was driven by the knowledge that some schools sponsored by Adidas would do almost anything to build “a nationally renowned basketball program, one that has the entire campus cheering.” KU has a sponsorship agreement with Adidas. KU and Adidas have a multimillion dollar extension of that agreement pending.
“A successful basketball program is the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket,” she said, noting that Louisville’s program generated nearly $40 million in 2017 while Pitino earned $7 million, more than he had made coaching in the NBA. The NCAA, she said, made $1 billion.
Yet, she told jurors, “Kids on court are not allowed to earn a dime.”
Lawyers for Gatto and Code acknowledged that their clients broke NCAA rules by steering cash to prospective college stars.
— The Associated Press, Journal-World editor Chad Lawhorn and Journal-World reporters Matt Tait and Dylan Lysen contributed to this report.