Official: Pitino is key figure in bribery probe
Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino is “Coach 2” described in the FBI’s investigation of bribery in college men’s basketball, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to comment publicly.
The complaint cites Coach 2 as a central figure described in the recruitment sting operation, which has rocked the University of Louisville men’s basketball program and resulted in Pitino’s suspension as head coach.
The revelation is significant because it reinforces the University of Louisville athletics department’s deep ties to Adidas, likely allows the university to fire Pitino without paying out the $46 million remaining on his contract, and exposes him to criminal prosecution.
Pitino’s attorney, Steve Pence, declined to comment when The Courier-Journal asked Thursday if Pitino is Coach 2.
But he reiterated that Pitino did nothing wrong.
“(The criminal complaint is) a document drafted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Pence said. “We anticipate cooperating with them — they can release the identities as they see fit.”
The 28-page Justice Department complaint, unsealed in federal court in New York, describes how defendants claimed to have talked to a person identified only as Coach 2 about funneling $100,000 from an apparel company to secure a top recruit’s commitment.
The complaint says the defendant — Christian Dawkins, who works at a New Jersey-based sports management company — said he talked to Coach 2 and told him, “I need you to call Jim Gatto,” the global marketing manager for Adidas who also has been charged and subsequently suspended by Adidas.
An FBI agent said in a sworn affidavit that a review of phone records shows that on May 27, Gatto had two conversations tied to a phone number used by Coach 2.
The complaint says on June 1, Gatto had a third conversation tied to the same number.
Two days later, the player — identified as high school AllAmerican Brian Bowen by The Courier-Journal — unexpectedly committed to the University of Louisville.
Pence said, “If there were calls made, they were innocent calls. Coach Pitino did not make calls confirming any payments to any of his recruits. He’s engaged in no misconduct at all.”
Pence also said, “If Dawkins said he talked to Pitino about giving money to a recruit, he’s lying.”
University of Louisville’s interim President Greg Postel said the school knows the identity of Coach 2 but has not disclosed that person’s identity.
Postel declined to confirm Thursday whether Pitino is Coach 2 when asked by report- ers after a hearing before the state legislature.
When asked why, Postel said, “Just because we don’t feel it’s our place to make those announcements.”
The FBI complaint says that on July 27 a Louisville assistant coach, an undercover agent and defendants Dawkins and Jonathan Brad Augustine met in a Las Vegas hotel room.
As the meeting was being recorded on video, Augustine said he expected Adidas to cover at least a portion of future payments to another Louisville recruit or his family because “no one swings a bigger (expletive) than (Coach 2)” at the company. He added that all Coach 2 has to do is “pick up the phone and call somebody, (and say) these are my guys, they’re taking care of us.”
The FBI’s complaint, in which 10 people have been charged, is based on secret wiretaps, cooperating witnesses and undercover agents.
Pitino’s contract says he can be fired for cause for a number of reasons, including “disparaging media publicity of a material nature that damages the good name and reputation of the university … if such publicity is caused by employee’s willful misconduct that could objectively be anticipated to bring employee into public disrepute or scandal or which tends to greatly offend the public.”