Of­fi­cial: Pitino is key fig­ure in bribery probe

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Phillip M. Bai­ley, Kevin John­son and An­drew Wolf­son John­son writes for USA TODAY. Bai­ley and Wolf­son write for The (Louisville) Courier-Jour­nal, part of the USA TODAY Net­work.

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.”

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