Basketball bribery defendants say NCAA violations aren’t crimes

Paying the relatives of high school basketball players to entice them to attend a particular university may be a violation of NCAA rules, but it isn’t a federal crime, say three men charged in a college bribery scandal.

The men are among 10 people charged in a three-year probe into illicit kickbacks in National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball that reached the highest levels of the sport and led to the ouster of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino of the University of Louisville. He was fired in the wake of the investigation and has sued the school for unjust termination. Louisville was already in trouble with Indianapolis-based NCAA over a scandal involving escorts.

The crackdown also heavily involves former Indiana Pacers Rookie of the Year Chuck Person, who played six NBA seasons in Indianapolis.

In a court filing Friday, James Gatto, a former Adidas AG executive; Merl Code, a consultant with ties to Adidas; and agent Christian Dawkins asked a federal judge to throw out the charges against them. The argued that that prosecutors are trying to “transform NCAA rules violations into a conspiracy to commit federal wire fraud."

The three men said that while they are charged with defrauding public universities including Louisville and the University of Miami, they were actually trying to help the schools after being asked to do so by their basketball coaches. They also argued that they never tried to obtain anything for themselves and never intended to deprive the schools of money or property.

"The injuries identified in the indictment—namely, awarding scholarships to students who could potentially be deemed ineligible to play because of defendants’ payments to their families—are, at most, unintended repercussions that defendants had no desire to see inflicted," the three men said in the filing. "As the indictment alleges again and again, defendants’ goal was to help the universities recruit a winning team, not deprive them of scholarships."

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