Payments to mom, guardian of KU players alleged in college basketball bribery scandal

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By Blair Kerkhoff and Gary Bedore bkerkhoff@kcstar.com gbedore@kcstar.com

A superseding indictment in college basketball’s ongoing FBI investigation shines a light on players who attended Kansas.

According to new charges filed Tuesday against Adidas executive James Gatto by the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, a mother and a guardian of two unidentified KU student-athletes are said to have benefited from illegal payments, which were made without the knowledge of the university.

Gatto was among a group that beginning around October 2016 and continuing until around November 2017, “conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $90,000 from Company-1 (Adidas) to the mother of a top high school basketball player,” according to court documents. ”The payments were made in connection with a commitment by the student-athlete to attend the University of Kansas, a school sponsored by (Adidas) and with the expectation that the student-athlete would sign with (Adidas) upon entering the NBA.”

The same group, the charges say, also agreed to make payments to the legal guardian of another top-rated prospect who committed to KU.

Joe Monaco, director of strategic communications for the University of Kansas, issued a statement responding to the indictment.

“Earlier today, we learned that the University of Kansas is named as a victim in a federal indictment," his statement read. "The indictment does not suggest any wrongdoing by the university, its coaches or its staff. We will cooperate fully with investigators in this matter. Because this is an active investigation, it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

KU coach Bill Self said Tuesday night that he would not discuss the KU players involved.

"I did not see anywhere nor do I believe that we were thought of to be anything but a victim in the situation," he said following the Jayhawks' annual postseason basketball banquet in Lawrence, "so I’ll reserve comment further in detail ... and let the university speak to specific matters."

The charges involve wire-fraud conspiracy and are based on the legal theory that casts federally funded universities as victims.

Under NCAA rules, athletes are prohibited from making money on their talents. According to the indictment, the schools were defrauded because they issued financial aid to the players under false pretenses.

Three other basketball programs sponsored by Adidas were mentioned in the indictment Tuesday — North Carolina State, Miami (Fla.), and Louisville — as well as four other unnamed players.

According to the allegations related to KU, Gatto funneled money from Adidas to the mother of a top recruit in a series of installments, according to court documents. The money was transferred indirectly through an AAU team under control of an associate of Gatto.

On Oct. 31, 2016, Gatto's associate withdrew $50,000 from Adidas in cash and “personally delivered approximately $30,000 to the player's mother at a hotel room in New York City. The associate also delivered about $20,000 in cash to the mother at a hotel room in Las Vegas around Jan. 19, 2017. The parent also received a $15,000 wire transfer around June 14, 2017, according to court documents.

Kansas received commitments from two players in fall 2016, including top-10 recruit and McDonalds' All-American Billy Preston, who announced his commitment and signed on Nov. 18, 2016. He arrived at KU in 2017, appearing in the Jayhawks’ exhibition games that fall, but did not appear in a regular-season game. He was held out of action while the university investigated the ownership of his vehicle, which was involved in an one-car accident before the 2017-18 season.

Preston withdrew from Kansas on Jan. 20, and signed with a professional team in Bosnia.

According to court documents, Gatto, his associate and others also agreed to make payments to the legal guardian of another top-rated prospect. The guardian told Gatto's associate in August 2017 that he had been paid to steer the prospect to a university sponsored by a rival company of Adidas and would need to make repayment in order for the player to attend KU.

On Aug. 30, 2017, the same day Silvio De Sousa announced he would play at KU, court documents say an unnamed prospect announced, in a "surprise" decision, that he would enroll at Kansas over the school sponsored by the Adidas rival.

Court documents also say the prospect signed financial aid paperwork with Kansas on Nov. 13, 2017, which is the same day KU announced De Sousa had signed to play basketball for the Jayhawks. De Sousa appeared in 20 of 23 games last season, including all eight postseason games on the Jayhawks' run to the Final Four, after he was cleared to play by the NCAA on Jan. 13.

Between the commitment and signing, the documents detail an exchange between Gatto and his associate, who said he would need to make “another $20,000 payment” to the guardian to “help get the student-athlete ‘out from under’ the deal to attend the school sponsored by the rival company.” It isn’t known if the payment was made.

Fenny Falmagne, De Sousa's guardian, responded in a text message and phone conversation with The Star in which he said De Sousa was not paid.

"We did not take any money," Falmagne said. "The kids and I never took money from anyone. This is bigger than basketball. These kids and I have sacrificed so much because we know this could change our countries and nation."

De Sousa played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. after arriving in the United States from Angola in January 2015. Falmagne, originally from Congo, is friends with former KU coach Larry Brown.

"He told me, 'Fenny the people at Kansas are good people and will help Silvio achieve his dream.' And look what it did listening to him," Falmagne said. "Made it to the Final Four and got significantly better."

According to the charges, the payments were designed to be concealed, from Kansas and the NCAA. No member of the Kansas coaching or athletic staff is mentioned in the indictment.

Last September, Kansas announced a 12-year extension of its apparel contract with Adidas worth $191 million.

In Feburary, Yahoo Sports obtained expense-report documents that identified current and former NCAA players and/or their familial representatives. The documents reportedly originated from Christian Dawkins, who was one of 10 men arrested by the FBI in late September when its two-year-long sting into college basketball's recruiting underworld was announced.

Self said after a day after the Yahoo story was reported: “Obviously it’s a concern of everybody involved in college basketball and it will get the proper attention, but that hasn’t been something — obviously, from a sport perspective, we’re all concerned, but from that perspective I know our people are on top of that.”

On Tuesday night following KU's banquet, Self said he hadn't yet studied the indictment but had seen parts of it.

"As far as what I know and what I’ve seen it’s disappointing," he said. "Certainly it took away from what was a nice evening tonight from a thought standpoint. It doesn’t and shouldn’t take away from us feeling good about what is going on within our program.

"There are some unknowns there that obviously would be a concern to anybody that is involved in the sport right now. But I am not to the point where I feel like that there’s been wrongdoing on behalf of anyone associated with us.”


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