How Maryland, Under Armour were roped into FBI investigation of Kansas recruit
Tuesday's report revealed how schools can, and might still will, get wrangled into this investigation
The FBI's unprecedented investigation into corruption and bribery in college basketball recruiting has ensnared many people, universities and shoe companies.
Louisville, Miami, Kansas and NC State (each one an Adidas school) were named in Tuesday's superseding indictment -- the government's new charges may have dragged another school, and apparel giant, into the picture: Maryland and Under Armour.crowded the room of interested parties, , which it could be argued is the most prominent basketball partner for Adidas. But while Adidas is at the center of the probe --
Neither the University of Maryland nor Under Armour (the university's official apparel provider) is explicitly named in the FBI's latest indictment -- and neither is in any danger of legal ramifications as far as we know -- but the dots align with the FBI's findings. And the fact that they are linked, even in an auxiliary way, speaks to the wider problem at hand, something the NCAA is attempting to reckon with: some shoe company employees are operating in the alleyways and there might not be any stopping them from continuing to do so.
Kansas freshman Silvio De Sousa, a 6-9 power forward originally from Angola who played prep ball at Montverde Academy in Florida, is identifiable in the government's filing that went public on Tuesday. No other Kansas player committed at a time that would correlate with the dates in the investigation, and the commitment was described as a surprise, which clearly fits the De Sousa recruitment.
The FBI alleges that Jim Gatto, a high-ranking associate at Adidas who was assessed with new charges on Tuesday, conspired with another person/consultant (identified as "CC-3" in the indictment) to move money to the guardian of a recruit who was headed elsewhere. That's where Maryland and Under Armour come in -- only the Terrapins and their outfitter fit the description in the story of that second program and apparel company.
Here's a breakdown of what we know from carefully parsing court documents. From the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York's report:
"The scheme participants also agreed to make payments to the legal guardian of another student-athlete who was a top-rated high school basketball player ("Guardian-1") in order to secure the commitment of the student-athlete to attend the University of Kansas rather than another school sponsored by a rival athletic apparel company."
Meaning that Gatto and the consultant, CC-3, were planning to pay De Sousa's guardian. More from the indictment:
"In or around August 2017, Guardian-1 informed CC-3 that Guardian-1 had received illicit payments in return for a commitment to steer the student-athlete to a university sponsored by a rival athletic apparel company. According to Guardian-1, the student-athlete was more interested in attending the University of Kansas, but Guardian-1 would need to repay the illicit payments in order to do so."
So De Sousa was a Kansas "lean" (recruitniks' parlance), but his legal guardian had already taken money and, according to the FBI's findings, agreed to a deal with another school.
Before we continue with the government's complaint, it must be pointed out that the Kansas City Star got De Sousa's guardian on the record Tuesday night, and the guardian denied taking any money. This statement is at direct odds with what the government is alleging, findings the FBI is backing in part through phone calls caught on wiretap.
Here's how the indictment filing continues:
"CC-3 informed Guardian-1, in substance, that CC-3 and Company-1 would be willing to make payments to Guardian-1 to help secure the student-athlete's commitment to attend the University of Kansas. CC-3 subsequently confirmed with James Gatto, a/k/a "Jim," the defendant, that Gatto would approve of such payments and cause Company-1 to fund them."
In essence, Gatto bought back De Sousa's rights to play for Kansas and paid off the debt. The indictment brings into light supposed pay-for-play scheme (persons potentially involved not detailed in the indictment) as collateral damage in its case. More from the court:
"On August 30, 2017, in what media reports called a 'surprise' decision, the student-athlete announced he would not attend the school sponsored by the rival apparel company but would instead enroll at the University of Kansas."
And that's where things click. De Sousa committed to Kansas on Aug. 30 of last year. Prior to his commitment, Maryland was considered not just the frontrunner but the universal favorite among industry experts and insiders. Multiple coaches, in addition to industry sources, told CBS Sports that Maryland was acknowledged in recruiting circles as De Sousa's likely landing spot. At 247Sports, every recruiting analyst -- local and national -- picked Maryland as De Sousa's destination. Here's one such report, from the Baltimore Sun, that describes De Sousa's choice as a "surprise." Given all of this information, in support of what the FBI alleges it has uncovered, then Maryland and Under Armour must be "the school sponsored by the rival apparel company" in court documents.
This doesn't mean Maryland was in the wrong. And Under Armour isn't a focus of the FBI's probe, so far as we know right now, but this investigation has nevertheless inevitably found its way to exposing the potentially nefarious merely by doing what so many sting operations use as a North Star: follow the money. More from the court documents:
"On or about September 11, 2017, CC-3 spoke with Gatto by phone. During the call, CC-3 informed Gatto that CC-3 would need to make 'another $20,000' payment to Guardian 1, as part of the scheme described above, and, in particular, to help get the student-athlete 'out from under' the deal to attend the school sponsored by the rival athletic apparel company. Gatto and CC-3 proceeded to discuss how Gatto and Company-1 would reimburse CC-3 for the payment."
That would indicate, according to the FBI's findings, that Adidas was still on the debit side of the deal and that someone at the rival apparel company was awaiting recoupment. The government points out that the payments made were "designed to be concealed, including from the NCAA and officials at the University of Kansas, in order for the scheme to succeed."
The same could reasonably said of Maryland. It bears repeating: The school is not on the hook for any of this, and that's the point. The investigation is exposing how blue chip-type players are often courted and steered through back channels, maybe not even by coaches or anyone working for a school, in order to eventually satisfy business deals when prospects turn professional and can sign endorsement contracts.
Maryland could have easily been in the same position that Kansas finds itself in: being named in the court document. Maybe it eventually will be, maybe it won't. This saga has been one of the biggest, most captivating stories in sports over the past six months, yet the Department of Justice has only released documents pertaining to the case twice. If there's still more to come, who else is vulnerable?
Tuesday's release brought new charges but no new defendants. What remains unknown is whether or not more is still to come from the FBI's side, and if so, whether anyone else winds up arrested or targeted within the investigation. The feds are building their case around the idea that schools are the victims in these schemes.
The FBI enhanced that argument Tuesday by highlighting how schools can be leveraged against each other not by their own doing, but through shoe company associates and others, who are driven by different means to other ends.
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