Former NBA Star Person Pleads Guilty in NCAA Bribery Scheme

(Bloomberg) -- Former National Basketball Association star Chuck Person admitted to taking thousands of dollars in bribes to steer college players to hire a financial adviser after they turned professional.

Person, 54, a former NBA Rookie of the Year in the 1986-1987 season, was the highest-profile defendant ensnared in a crackdown on bribery, corruption and fraud in college basketball. His guilty plea, entered Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, comes just before the annual championship tournament known as March Madness is set to begin. In two days, Auburn University, where Person played and coached, is scheduled to compete against New Mexico State in the first round.

Person is pleading to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. Under an agreement with prosecutors, he will receive 24 to 30 months in prison when he is sentenced July 9. Had he been convicted at trial he would have faced as much as five years. Under his plea agreement, Person will forfeit the $91,500 in bribes he received from the financial adviser, who was cooperating with law enforcement.

In September 2017, federal prosecutors charged 10 coaches, managers, financial advisers and representatives following a three-year probe into corruption at the sport’s highest level. The scandal struck the heart of college basketball and led to the ousting of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino from the University of Louisville.

“Chuck Person abused his position as a coach and mentor to student-athletes in exchange for personal gain,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “In taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes, Person not only placed personal financial gain above his obligations to his employer and the student-athletes he coached, but he broke the law.”

Person’s co-defendant, Rashan Michel, a former NBA referee who operated a bespoke clothing store in Atlanta that made suits for professional athletes, is set to go on trial in June over accusations that he helped facilitate bribes.

Former Adidas AG executive James Gatto, agent Christian Dawkins and consultant Merl Code were convicted in October of funneling illicit payments to relatives of prospects and concealing them. Gatto was sentenced to nine months in prison earlier this month, while Code and Dawkins each received six months.

Five of those charged in the scandal have pleaded guilty: financial adviser Munish Sood, former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola, ex-University of Southern California assistant coach Tony Bland, former Oklahoma State University assistant coach Lamont Evans, and Emanuel “Book” Richardson, a one-time University of Arizona assistant coach.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.