NEW YORK – Testimony at a trial about secret payments in college basketball drew to a close Tuesday after prosecutors asked the jury to focus on a flurry of texts and phone calls, some involving legendary Louisville coach Rick Pitino, about Brian Bowen Jr. in the days before the prized prospect committed to the school.
Christian Dawkins, a business manager courting Bowen’s family, former amateur league director Merl Code and former Adidas executive James Gatto have pleaded not guilty in federal court in Manhattan to charges that they committed fraud by funneling funds to families of coveted prospects to get them to attend major programs sponsored by the sneaker company.
A government exhibit put in evidence showed a series of communications in May 2017 during which Dawkins asked Code if any Adidas schools were interested in Bowen, who also was being recruited by Nike-sponsored Oregon. Code texted back, “Don’t send Bowen to Oregon. Call me.”
After the two spoke by phone, Dawkins texted Pitino: “Would you have any interest in Brian Bowen or are you done with recruiting?”
Pitino responded: “We would love to have him.”
The exhibit showed that Gatto also reached out to Pitino by text asking if they could speak on the phone, and records show that there was a conversation afterward. But none of the entries on the exhibit gave an indication that Pitino knew anything about an alleged scheme to give Bowen’s father $100,000 in violation of NCAA rules.
The corruption case caused a scandal that resulted in Bowen leaving Louisville before he ever played a game. The college also fired Pitino even though he denied any wrongdoing.
Lawyers for the three defendants haven’t disputed that there was an effort pay the players’ families. But they’ve argued that the schools had to be aware of what was going on, and that neither they nor the NCAA suffered any harm.
Closing arguments were expected to begin Wednesday afternoon.