Phone calls, emails tie USC to scan­dal

Pros­e­cu­tors al­leged fam­ily friend of Mel­ton took bribe. He has de­nied it.

Los Angeles Times - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY NATHAN FENNO

The mid­dle­man sounded ner­vous.

On a Septem­ber morn­ing 15 months ago, Chris­tian Dawkins fin­ished writ­ing the busi­ness plan for his fledg­ling sports man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing com­pany. He called it Loyd Inc., short­hand for Liv­ing Out Your Dreams.

The 41⁄2-page doc­u­ment in­cluded pro­posed pay­ments to as­so­ci­ates of 19 col­lege and high school bas­ket­ball play­ers to per­suade them to re­tain the com­pany as pro­fes­sion­als.

USC’s De’An­thony Mel­ton, now a rookie with the Phoenix Suns, was on the list.

“Do you think I can trust email­ing this kind of in­for­ma­tion to Jill?” Dawkins asked Mu­n­ish Sood, a New Jersey-based fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor and com­pany part­ner, in a phone call in­ter­cepted by the FBI.

“Yeah, I mean, she’s in it now, right?” Sood replied. “I’d rather have her have it than Jeff.”

But Jill Bai­ley and Jeff D’An­gelo weren’t who they seemed, even as they posed as in­vestors in the com­pany and joined Dawkins and Sood on the board of di­rec­tors. Jill and Jeff were un­der­cover FBI agents.

The busi­ness plan and in­ter­cepted con­ver­sa­tion are among ex­hibits the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced last month dur­ing the trial in U.S. Dis­trict Court in New York where Dawkins and two other men were con­victed of wire fraud and con­spir­acy to com­mit wire fraud. It was the first of three ex­pected tri­als re­lated to the wide-rang­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into col­lege bas­ket­ball bribery and cor­rup­tion that con­tin­ues to shake the sport.

Though the trial fo­cused on Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina State, ex­hibits in­clude records of a phone call from USC head coach Andy En­field to a key fig­ure in the case, plus emails and text mes­sages that pro­vide more de­tails about how the probe en­snared the Tro­jans.

Dawkins’ hes­i­tant call with Sood on Sept. 5, 2017, is among 24 recorded con­ver­sa­tions in­tro­duced as ex­hibits.

“I’d much rather her have it than Jeff, but my ques­tion is … I mean, ob­vi­ously I was go­ing to send it to you,” said Dawkins, a for­mer run­ner for the ASM Sports agency, “but I’m just say­ing there’s names on here, there’s num­bers, it’s ev­ery­thing.”

That in­cluded Mel­ton, un­der the head­ing of “Prospec­tive Play­ers” in the busi­ness plan.

“$5000 a month from Septem­ber 2017 un­til April 2018 Plus 20k sign­ing bonus in April to un­cle. Let’s try to stall on this deal af­ter this next up­com­ing month. That is a lot of re­sources for one guy, when we have other elite play­ers who won’t cost that much. Pro­jected first round pick.”

Other play­ers men­tioned in the pay­ment list in­clude James Wise­man, the top prospect in the class of 2019, Ken­tucky fresh­man Ash­ton Ha­gans and for­mer Ari­zona player Rawle Alkins.

Some peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion don’t take the list se­ri­ously, how­ever, view­ing it as more wish­ful think­ing than an ac­tual sched­ule of pay­offs. There’s no ev­i­dence in the ex­hibits that Mel­ton or most of the other play­ers knew about the list or re­ceived money.

Steve Haney, the at­tor­ney for Dawkins, didn’t re­spond to ques­tions about the busi­ness plan.

USC held out Mel­ton for the 2017-18 sea­son while it in­ves­ti­gated his ties to the scan­dal that led to the in­dict­ment of Tro­jans as­so­ciate head coach Tony Bland. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors al­leged David El­liott, a fam­ily friend of Mel­ton some­times de­scribed as his un­cle, re­ceived a $5,000 bribe in Au­gust 2017 to steer the player to re­tain Dawkins and Sood when he joined the NBA.

El­liott has re­peat­edly de­nied he ac­cepted any money or oth­er­wise vi­o­lated NCAA rules. Nei­ther Mel­ton’s agent nor El­liott re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

“I won’t be speak­ing with any­one in re­gards to the case,” El­liott wrote last month in an email to The Times af­ter his name was in­cluded on a list of 87 peo­ple who might be men­tioned dur­ing the trial. “This has ru­ined a lot of re­la­tion­ships un­nec­es­sar­ily in the past year.”

The first men­tion of USC in the ex­hibits is an email from Dawkins to Sood on May 24, 2017, about po­ten­tial clients for Loyd Inc. Dawkins listed Mel­ton and Chimezie Metu, who played three sea­sons for USC be­fore the San An­to­nio Spurs drafted him in the sec­ond round this year, among nine play­ers “I am in­volved with mov­ing for­ward.” The email didn’t spec­ify what that meant.

Less than two weeks later, Dawkins sent a late-night text to Sood from Las Ve­gas: “I’m about to go into a pre­sen­ta­tion.”

“This late … You must be with girls,” Sood replied.

“Dean­thony Mel­ton un­cle. From USC. He got his flight de­layed. Need to knock it out tonight so I’m not su­per packed with mtgs tomo,” Dawkins wrote.

Sub­se­quent texts be­tween Dawkins and Sood didn’t de­tail the out­come of the pre­sen­ta­tion.

Records for one of the two phones Dawkins used show five calls be­tween him and El­liott from May 18, 2017, to June 28, 2017. One call lasted 23 min­utes. The four oth­ers were brief.

Dawkins and Bland, sched­uled for trial in April, ex­changed 19 calls be­tween May 5, 2017, and July 1, 2017. Records be­yond that pe­riod haven’t been made pub­lic. The Times didn’t find num­bers con­nected to other USC coaches in Dawkins’ phone records.

But an­other batch of phone logs en­tered as an ex­hibit showed a call from a num­ber used by En­field to Adi­das con­sul­tant T.J. Gass­nola on May 30, 2017, that lasted 41⁄2 min­utes.

Gass­nola pleaded guilty in March to con­spir­acy to com­mit wire fraud. He tes­ti­fied dur­ing the trial last month that he paid the fam­i­lies of five high-pro­file play­ers. They in­cluded De­an­dre Ay­ton, the Ari­zona cen­ter drafted first over­all by the Phoenix Suns this year. A USC spokesman de­clined to com­ment on the call.

On Aug. 13, 2017, Dawkins texted un­spec­i­fied re­cip­i­ents a pay­ment sched­ule for play­ers and their as­so­ci­ates. He used ab­bre­vi­a­tions in­stead of names.

“So, I was just call­ing to check in so I know the list was ob­vi­ously a lit­tle cryp­tic with you, you know, some of the names and ev­ery­thing like that,” Dawkins told Bai­ley in an in­ter­cepted call three days later.

“Yeah, can you walk me through some of that?” the un­der­cover agent asked.

Ac­cord­ing to the tran­script of the call, Dawkins said “LV” stood for Louisville and “DBBS” rep­re­sented Brian Bowen Sr. He re­quired $2,000 a month.

Most of the 51-page tran­script is redacted. That means other no­ta­tions in the text — like “Septem­ber 1 - 5k UDE, SC TB” or “DTCTB 4K cash in one acct — 2k a month af­ter this starts again in oct” — aren’t ex­plained.

“So, ob­vi­ously, we’ve got to put fund­ing out and some of the money can’t be com­pletely ac­counted for on pa­per be­cause some of it is what­ever you want to call it, il­le­gal, against NCAA rules, or what­ever,” Dawkins said. “But, if we’re like pay­ing a fa­ther or a han­dler or a brother or what­ever the case may be, you can sign them to agree­ments and that’s com­pletely le­gal.”

Three weeks later, Dawkins and Sood de­bated whether to send the busi­ness plan to Bai­ley.

“I think you’re OK cause who is she go­ing to take it to?” Sood said on the in­ter­cepted call. “I mean, what’s your con­cern about giv­ing it to her?”

“My con­cern is what if some­one that we don’t know is in­ves­ti­gat­ing her and goes into her email?” Dawkins replied. “Ya know I’m just al­ways para­noid.”

Sood texted the busi­ness plan to the un­der­cover agent.

The FBI ar­rested Sood, Dawkins and eight other men less than a month later.

nathan.fenno@la­times.com Twit­ter: @nathanfenno

‘If we’re like pay­ing a fa­ther or a han­dler or a brother or what­ever the case may be, you can sign them to agree­ments and that’s com­pletely le­gal.’ — Chris­tian Dawkins, for­mer run­ner for a sports agency, in a text sub­mit­ted as ev­i­dence

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