College basketball bribery trial: Ex-Arizona assistant coach sentenced to three months in prison

Matt Norlander / CBS Sports

NEW YORK -- Former Arizona assistant men's basketball coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson was sentenced to three months in prison and two years of supervised release on Thursday after pleading guilty in January to a federal bribery charge.

The sentencing, handed down on the sixth floor of the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, is history-making. Never before had there been a college basketball coach who served prison time for involvement in NCAA violations -- which in turn were prosecuted to the level of federal lawbreaking. 

Upon leaving the courthouse, Richardson spoke briefly about his sentencing. 

"I'm extremely happy this is over," Richardson told CBS Sports. "Again, want to thank the University of Arizona, want to thank President (Robert) Robbins. I also want to apologize to them, to the University of Arizona and to President Robbins for everything that's happened. Just knowing who I am, and again, as a mistake that happened -- because it was a mistake, it wasn't a conduct that's natural and normal -- and I think my former players and I think my family will attest to that. Again, any student-athlete I hurt, any student-athlete I put in a bad way, I apologize sincerely. I'm always going to be their coach, I'm always going to be their uncle. To some, I'll be their dad. Unfortunately this happened and hopefully we can build something positive from it."

The government was seeking 18-24 months for Richardson. 

"The conduct was serious and has serious consequences," government prosecutor Noah Solowiejczyk said to Judge Ramos, citing the players and prospects whose eligibility was put into jeopardy because of Richardson's actions. "His job was to look out for them -- he was doing the opposite." 

Ramos went well below the suggested guidelines, citing Richardson's lack of a criminal record, his long career in college coaching and the testimonials sent on his behalf prior to his sentencing.  

"I have no doubt he has positively impacted dozens if not hundreds of young men over the course of his career," Ramos said. "I think that merits some leniency."

The sentencing came a day after Ramos ruled for two years' probation for former Southern California assistant Tony Bland. But Richardson's situation was always much more problematic than Bland's. When Richardson addressed Judge Ramos, moments before he learned of his impending incarceration, he asked for forgiveness and leniency. He expressed deep sorrow and apologized for his actions. 

"I take full ownership, I take full responsibility," he told Ramos, while acknowledging he'd probably never coach college basketball again. "I have no rhyme or reason for the decision that was made. I made it." 

Sean Miller's longtime assistant was caught on FBI surveillance video accepting $20,000 total between two meetings in June and July 2017. 

"If I did not trust you, I would not be here," Richardson told undercover FBI agents on June 20, 2017, at the Conrad hotel in New York City. "And you know, everything we talk about stays here. So we, we're very, very private about this stuff."

Ramos, who said he reviewed Richardson's videos and wiretaps prior to sentencing, said it wasn't just the money amount but also that Richardson was the catalyst for the July meeting, that he remained involved, and those wound up being the most consequential reasons why he received incarceration. Until his arrest in September of 2017, Richardson was on a $5,000-per-month retainer with Dawkins.

"It was not a one-day, one-time decision," Ramos said. "His conduct also had real victims. I do believe the University of Arizona was a victim. … More importantly, from the standpoint of the court, the student-athletes Mr. Richardson coached were victimized. … He clearly told Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Sood and government cooperators he would be delivering players to Mr. Dawkins, so he clearly put himself ahead of their well-being." 

Richardson made his way to Princeton, New Jersey, in July 2017 to receive $15,000, which was afforded to him by an undercover FBI agent so that Richardson could secure the recruitment of Jahvon Quinerly. It turned out Richardson never used any of the $20,000 to pay that player or anyone connected to them. He kept the cash.

"In some ways it makes Mr. Richardson's conduct more egregious," Solowiejczyk said. "Because he kept money himself instead of shipping it to players." 

Craig Mordock, Richardson's lawyer, made his case to Ramos by painting Richardson as the biggest victim of negative publicity of any coach involved in the case. 

"He is the public face of this scandal," Mordock said. "It's a rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story, in a professional sense." 

Because Richardson worked for a top-flight basketball program, Mordock said he was the most high-profile of all the coaches involved -- but also, surprisingly, the lowest-paid. And in the spring of 2017, he came under financial pressures, pressures that pushed him into nefarious activity. Recruiting is, far and away, regarded as the most time-consuming and stressful aspect of college coaching. Richardson was great at it, but it wore away at him. Richardson claimed on FBI-captured conversations that he dipped into his retirement account to help fund some of Arizona's recruitments.

"I don't believe anyone in college basketball believed that committing an NCAA violation would lead to federal prosecution," Mordock said. 

Richardson, who pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, was also ruled with a forfeiture of the $20,000 as means to steer Arizona players and prospects to Christian Dawkins' fledgling sports management company, LOYD Inc. 

After the sentencing, as most made their way out of the courtroom, Richardson stood from where he'd been seated in front of the judge and prosecutors and stared ahead for nearly a minute. He looked like a man who'd gone through hell in private and now knew he had more waiting for him behind bars in a matter of weeks. Richardson's wife, in tears, comforted him. As they waited for the elevator, they huddled in a corner, joined by some friends and family who came to support them. 

Richardson was asked outside the courthouse if he thought it fair that assistant coaches were caught up in this saga and taking the brunt of the punishment, as opposed to head coaches, most of whom have kept their jobs after the FBI probe of bribery and corruption in college basketball.

"I can't really answer that," Richardson said. "I can only attest to what I did and that's it."

Prior to Judge Ramos handing down Richardson's sentence, we learned through Richardson's attorney that he hasn't had a full-time job since January 2018, when he was fired from Arizona. In court on Wednesday, Bland's attorney referenced how Richardson was turned down for a job at Starbucks, citing the case's notoriety. Instead, Richardson has been working for $40-50 per hour to train kids 7-14 years old. 

Richardson, once a name only known to those within college basketball or diehard Arizona fans, became a symbol on Thursday of how cheating in college can stain your life, if not ruin it, forever. This investigation has had a chorus of critics for myriad reasons, and a prison sentence will probably only cause a crescendo. 

And we're not done here yet. The sentencing of Lamont Evans, a former assistant coach at South Carolina and at Oklahoma State, will be Friday. He's expected to receive a harsher sentence than Richardson. Later this year, former Auburn assistant Chuck Person, an all-time player in school history, will be sentenced. He pled guilty in May in a separate case. 

As he left the courthouse grounds, holding hands with his wife, Richardson was also asked if Miller knew about Wildcat players being paid, something wiretapped phone calls caught Richardson and Dawkins explicitly discussing in 2017 and which the NCAA will use to build in one of many highly anticipated cases currently transpiring in Indianapolis. 

"You've got to ask him that," Richardson said. "He's not on trial. I was on trial." 

He later contacted a reporter to clarify his statements and said he has "no knowledge of Sean Miller paying players or attempting to pay them."

Richardson is scheduled for surrender in New York on July 18. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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