Report: Former NC State assistant claims Mark Gottfried was in on payments to Dennis Smith Jr.'s family

Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports

Cal State Northridge coach Mark Gottfried has been accused of facilitating cash payments to the trainer of former NC State star, and current New York Knicks guard, Dennis Smith Jr. when Gottfried coached at NC State, according to a report released Friday night by ESPN.com.

Citing court documents, the story alleges that former Gottfried assistant Orlando Early told his attorney that Gottfried twice gave Early envelopes to deliver to Smith's then-trainer, Shawn Farmer, to help ensure commitment to NC State back in 2015. 

Smith did eventually commit to NC State and starred there for a season before leaving in 2017 to be an NBA lottery pick. If the allegations are true, Gottfried would become the first head coach to be directly tied to money payments to a player in the FBI's investigation into corruption and bribery in college basketball recruiting. (Though former Louisville coach Rick Pitino was fired in the immediate aftermath of the FBI scandal, he was never directly tied to any wrongdoing.)

The documents cited are on behalf of the federal government. Early's name came up in the first of three trials, in October, when he was alleged to have hand-delivered money via envelope to Farmer. Former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola, who was a cooperating witness for the government, testified under oath that he was a party to those payments as well.

The exact number of payments made to people connected to Dennis Smith Jr. is not publicly known. 

From our story in October: "Gassnola testified he made two payments to the family of former NC State star Dennis Smith Jr. ... Gassnola's first payment was when Smith was a junior in high school. The second came in 2015 when — and this will be of particular interest to the NCAA — Gassnola delivered $40,000 in cash to then-NC State assistant Orlando Early at Early's house. Early said he would then give it to Smith's trainer."

The money, allegedly, was ultimately to be delivered to Dennis Smith Jr.'s father. From what ESPN's story depicts, the payments Gottfried is accused of being a party to appear to be separate installments. 

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According to sources, the allegations concerning Gottfried were included in a sentencing memorandum filed Feb. 12 on behalf of former Adidas executive James Gatto, who was sentenced to nine months in federal prison on Tuesday.

The information concerning Gottfried, who is now coaching at Cal State Northridge, is redacted in the sentencing memo that is publicly available. The sources told ESPN that federal prosecutors initially disclosed Early's attorney's statement before an October federal criminal trial in New York, in which Gatto and two other men were convicted of conspiring to funnel money from Adidas to the families of high-profile recruits to steer them to Adidas-sponsored programs, including Kansas, Louisville and NC State.

The allegations concerning Gottfried weren't introduced into evidence during the criminal trial.

Scott Tompsett, Gottfried's attorney, disputed the allegations in the disclosure.

"The statement being reported on is false and conflicts with the sworn testimony of the government's lead witness in the trial last fall," Tompsett said in a statement provided to ESPN. "Specifically, at trial, T.J. Gassnola testified, under penalty of perjury, that he did not discuss the payment to Dennis Smith with anyone at N.C. State other than one assistant coach. Thus, the statement being reported on as it refers to Mr. Gottfried is not corroborated by a single shred of evidence and it conflicts with the sworn testimony of the government's lead witness at the trial last fall."

Per ESPN's reporting, the disclosure -- which, again, comes via Early's claims to his lawyer -- portrays Gottfried at one point as frustrated over using his own money to help procure Smith's commitment and that he would need to go to Adidas for "help."

CSUN released the following statement: 

Gottfried was fired from NC State in March of 2017 after back-to-back sub-.500. seasons. Cal State Northridge hired him nearly a year later, on March 12, 2018. Early was fired along with the rest of the NC State staff in 2017 and worked as an NBA scout with the Dallas Mavericks thereafter. Early did not respond to CBS Sports when reached for comment.

When NC State came under scrutiny amid the FBI's investigation, Cal State Northridge in 2018 put out a statement in defense of its hire of Gottfried: "Coach Gottfried has an excellent compliance record and understands how to build winners the right way. We did our own due diligence and, as both Coach Gottfried and officials at North Carolina State have said, there are no red flags whatsoever."

Cal State Northridge, a Big West school, is 13-18 in its first season under Gottfried. 

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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