Pitino, Louisville rebut NCAA findings in escort scandal

The University of Louisville has informed the NCAA that the school disputes allegations that Rick Pitino violated his responsibility as a head coach by failing to monitor former staffer Andre McGee's activities, which resulted in a sex scandal and subsequent investigation by the governing body.

The school on Wednesday released responses it submitted last week after receiving a Notice of Allegations in October from the Indianapolis-based NCAA that included four violations by the basketball program and criticism of Pitino for failing to monitor the former Cardinals basketball staffer, who allegedly hired escorts and strippers for sex parties with recruits and players.

The allegations involving escorts came to light in fall 2015 in the book "Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen" by former escort Katina Powell. In it, she claimed that McGee paid her $10,000 for 22 shows from 2010-14 at the players' Billy Minardi Hall dormitory. The building is named for Pitino's brother-in-law, who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.

Powell's book was published by IBJ Book Publishing LLC, a sister company of Indianapolis Business Journal. Investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Dick Cady co-authored the book.

In one of three responses to the allegations, Louisville stated that Pitino "fostered a culture" of compliance and that McGee's activities couldn't have been monitored by "reasonable" practices because he intended to avoid detection.

Pitino's separate response was more pointed, saying that the NCAA "overreached in this case" and that the Hall of Fame coach should never have been charged.

It rebuts the NCAA's contention that Pitino failed to seek red flags and that he never got indications of McGee's activities.

"When confronted with the details of the activities," Pitino's attorney, Scott Tompsett stated on the coach's behalf, "McGee and some of the young men who were involved in the parties lied to experienced and trained NCAA investigators. …

"Those who were involved knew that the activities were illicit and they certainly were not going to tell Pitino."

Pitino's response cited his cooperation in the investigation and questioned what the NCAA believes he could have done differently.

"Coach Pitino takes this case very seriously," his response said.

All of Louisville's responses—obtained by The Associated Press through an Open Records Request—were submitted prior to the NCAA's Jan. 17 deadline and were the second step in a process that is expected to come to an end this spring.

Names of past and prospective student-athletes and others are redacted throughout the school's 92-page response, Pitino's 43-page answer and a document of exhibits backing up its answer.

The NCAA listed multiple occurrences in its Notice of Allegations in which McGee—who did not cooperate with the investigation and faces a show-cause order—hired dancers to have sex with players and recruits. In its NOA sent to Louisville on Oct. 17, the NCAA states McGee shelled out at least $5,400 in impermissible benefits.

Louisville's estimate was slightly lower, around $4,500, of which the school states only $805 of that was cash that McGee gave to prospects to tip dancers; the remainder is considered the value of the benefits.

The NCAA did not accuse Pitino of a lack of institutional control, which would have been considered the most serious violation possible.

Louisville agreed that impermissible benefits took place on 37 of 40 alleged instances but disagreed on the other three because of the reliability of some information provided. It contends that an allegation should not be substantiated solely by Powell's unrecorded interviews with the NCAA or her journals.

While the school called McGee's behavior "appalling and inexcusable," it noted that some allegations were Level III with the value provided "not a large amount." The response lists precedents in which benefits had similar or greater value.

Louisville also noted self-imposed penalties taken last spring after its investigation determined that violations did occur. The most severe sanction was a postseason ban announced last February, followed by the reduction of two scholarships and the number of days staffers could recruit.

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