|A federal appeals court in New York on Friday upheld convictions against a sports marketer, an aspiring agent and a financial adviser in a college basketball scandal that spoiled the careers of several coaches and left a stain on the integrity of college athletics.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said in its written decision that it was not adequate for the defendants to argue that their actions mirrored what was commonly done in college basketball programs and that their aim was to help universities, rather than harm.
“The ends, however, do not justify the means, and that others are engaging in improper behavior does not make it lawful,” the 2nd Circuit said in an opinion written by Judge Denny Chin.
The convictions grew from the 2017 arrests of 10 individuals in what authorities described as a conspiracy to pay bribes to the families of young players to ensure NBA-bound college basketball stars would pledge allegiance to certain agents and handlers or attend certain schools.
The appeal stemmed from the convictions of former Adidas executive James Gatto, business manager Christian Dawkins and amateur league director Merl Code. They were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for funneling money and recruits to Louisville and Kansas.
Dawkins and Code were convicted at a second trial on a single conspiracy count but acquitted of some other charges.
At trial, the men acknowledged that their actions violated NCAA rules and the official policies of the universities, but they also maintained that the universities quietly welcomed the secret payments as long as they could pretend they knew nothing of them.
Other defendants pleaded guilty to charges or cooperated with prosecutors rather than go to trial, including four former assistant basketball coaches who pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy. Prison sentences in the case were relatively short.
In ruling, the three-judge appeals panel noted that the defendants argued that they should not have been convicted because they did not have fraudulent intent since their scheme was designed to help the schools recruit top-tier players.
Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch offered a partial dissent, saying he would have rejected some charges on grounds that evidence of some phone calls the defendants wanted to show jurors was unjustly disqualified.