NEW YORK — When an Adidas executive agreed to pay $100,000 to the family of a top basketball recruit to get him to commit to Louisville, he thought he was trying to match or beat an offer by Nike to secure the recruit for Oregon, according to his attorney.
The claim, made by a lawyer for Adidas executive Jim Gatto during the opening statements of a federal college basketball corruption trial Tuesday, added a new school to the list of those already implicated as potentially benefiting from illicit recruiting assistance provided by shoe companies. Oregon has not previously been named in court documents and evidence produced during the Justice Department’s investigation into the basketball black market.
Gatto is charged with wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy for agreeing to pay the family of Brian Bowen to get the heralded high school player to play for Louisville in 2017.
According to his attorney, Casey Donnelly, Gatto agreed to make the payment — like others he allegedly arranged to steer recruits to Kansas, Miami and North Carolina State, other Adidas-sponsored teams — without any intent to defraud the schools, as prosecutors allege, but rather to help them win recruiting battles with other schools sponsored by Nike and Under Armour.
“Jim was not trying to hurt these universities, he was trying to help them,” Donnelly said. “He thought he was doing his job.”
Donnelly did not detail the source of the information for the alleged bid from Nike on behalf of Oregon.
Tuesday afternoon, Oregon issued the following statement: “The university is aware of the claim made by a defense attorney in New York’s U.S. District Court as part of opening statements in a criminal trial related to college basketball recruiting. To date, the University of Oregon has not been contacted by the federal government or any other party involved in these proceedings. We take the claim seriously and will monitor the court proceedings closely for any further details.”
Gatto is standing trial this month in New York along with Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant, and Christian Dawkins, an aspiring NBA agent, both accused of working with Gatto on these secret payments to the families of top basketball recruits. While the accused were recorded in wiretapped phone calls discussing rival bids, no one from Nike or Under Armour has been charged in connection with this investigation.
In the prosecution’s opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark portrayed Gatto and the others as defrauding Louisville and the other schools, going to efforts to hide the payments because they knew what they were doing risked significant financial penalties for the schools if the NCAA found out.
“It was a blatant and brazen violation of the most fundamental rule in college basketball: You can’t pay to play,” Mark said.