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Former University of Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson takes plea agreement By Bruce Pascoe and Caitlin Schmidt Arizona Daily Star Jan 7, 2019 +3
Former UA assistant coach Book Richardson faces 18 to 24 months in prison, though a sentence can be levied outside that range on either side. Sentencing is expected in April. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star 2017 Save
Former Arizona assistant basketball coach Book Richardson pleaded guilty to one count of federal funds bribery Monday, part of a plea agreement related to the federal investigation into college basketball.
Four other charges will be dismissed, according to Richardson’s Louisiana-based attorney, Craig Mordock. The remaining charge carries a range of 18 to 24 months in prison, though a sentence can be levied outside that range on either side. Sentencing is expected in April.
Mordock, who said he filed the plea agreement paperwork with federal attorneys in New York, said a decision had not been reached on whether the agreement would include any cooperation from Richardson in the ongoing federal investigation and trials involving college basketball.
According to a September 2017 federal complaint, Richardson took $20,000 from aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins to give to recruits in exchange for steering Arizona players to him for professional representation.
Richardson was initially charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation of bribes by an agent of a federally funded organization, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and travel act conspiracy. He was immediately suspended by the UA, which fired him in January 2018.
If he was convicted of all charges, Richardson would have faced a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, court officials said. Most likely, Richardson could have received three to four years in prison if he went through with his scheduled trial in April and was found guilty. The jail time is significantly longer than the range his lone remaining charge carries.
Former USC assistant coach Tony Bland also came to a plea agreement last month, though questions remain about what happened to the $13,000 he was accused of taking from Dawkins, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is expected he will receive a lighter penalty than Richardson.
Mordock said he and Richardson began talking about a plea agreement around Thanksgiving. While Richardson declined to comment, Mordock said Richardson “benefited the University of Arizona” and positively affected the lives of UA players in his eight-plus years with the program. Richardson came over with Sean Miller from the Xavier staff in April 2009, when the UA hired Miller as head coach.
The UA released a statement Monday night, saying “The University of Arizona is aware of media reports and defense counsel statements regarding a potential plea agreement between former men’s basketball assistant coach Book Richardson and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The university will continue to monitor developments and continue its cooperation with the ongoing investigations.”
The first of three scheduled trials into college basketball fraud resulted in convictions, making it more likely other individuals who were charged would settle. A jury in New York found that Dawkins, plus Adidas employees Merl Code and James Gatto, defrauded schools by setting up payments to top prospects and their handlers without the schools’ knowledge.
Although defense attorneys argued that their clients were trying to help schools by delivering top talent, the jury agreed with the prosecution’s argument that the payments made the players ineligible under NCAA rules — thereby defrauding the schools they were set to play for.
“Now that this new theory has been successful in at least one case, those people who are not directly employed by a school certainly are at risk — and the people who are employed (by the school) are at a higher risk,” Atlanta-based attorney Stu Brown, who has worked with schools involved with NCAA allegations, told the Arizona Daily Star in October, shortly after the verdict was reached.
“If a jury buys the theory that shoe company reps and runners have defrauded a school, then a jury might be at least as likely to buy the theory that anybody involved with the school” also did.
After the trial concluded in October, Mordock said he and Richardson were “very troubled” by the verdict.
“The current state of play in college basketball is that any violation of NCAA rules is likely a federal criminal violation. Book and I are very troubled by that,” Mordock said then. “However, we believe only limited context about the environment in which the coaches and sneaker executives operated in was provided to the jury. We will evaluate our options accordingly.” +3
UA guard Kadeem Allen, right, does his best to keep his composure in an interview while assistant coach Book Richardson interjects with lyrics during practice day in Salt Lake City. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star/
While Richardson and Bland will now no longer stand trial in April alongside former Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans, a trial in which Code and Dawkins are also defendants, former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person and former NBA referee Rashan Michel are scheduled for trial next month.
On Dec. 3, before Bland and Richardson struck plea agreements, lawyers for Richardson and his co-defendants in the case filed a 39-page joint motion asking that the federal charges be dropped.
The filing said the men didn’t commit any crimes and that their actions aren’t “remotely considered unlawful,” according to the motion.
On Dec. 20, Bland reached a plea agreement that he would plead guilty to one felony count of federal funds bribery and receive a sentencing range between six and 12 months — one that is expected to be reduced to only probation without prison time because Bland had no prior record, according to the Times.
On Thursday, attorneys for the government filed a motion asking for a 15-day extension in filing their response to the motion, saying they were “actively engaged in plea negotiations with several of the defendants in the case.”
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos granted the government’s motion, giving federal prosecutors until Jan. 29 to respond to the motion. +3
Defendant Christian Dawkins was instrumental in steering prized prospect Brian Bowen Jr. to Louisville. Mark Lennihan / The Associated Press/
UA coach Miller has not been directly implicated in any of the allegations that surfaced in the September 2017 federal complaint and in October’s trial.
However, Richardson and UA former associate head coach Joe Pasternack were mentioned in both the federal complaint and testimony from witnesses.
The federal complaints made public in September 2017 said Richardson accepted $20,000 in bribes to help lure five-star guard Jahvon Quinerly to Arizona. They also quoted Dawkins saying a player on UA’s 2017-18 team “had already accepted money,” and that Code told Gatto of a $150,000 offer from Arizona to land five-star forward Nassir Little. Adidas was reportedly trying to keep Little away from a school sponsored by Nike, like the UA.
The father of top prospect Brian Bowen testified in October’s trial that Dawkins told him Pasternack was offering $50,000 for his son to choose Arizona. Former travel ball director T.J. Gassnola testified that he gave $15,000 to a family friend of Deandre Ayton in an effort to steer him to Kansas.
After the trial, ESPN reported that Dawkins wrote of a plan to pay former UA player Rawle Alkins and his family a total of $50,000 while he was playing for the Wildcats last season. Dawkins’ email to partner Munish Sood said he planned to pay Alkins $2,500 a month from September 2017 through April 2018, plus another $30,000 in travel expenses for Alkins’ family.
Dawkins also wrote that he wanted to give Alkins’ cousin, Rodney Labossiere, a share of his new sports management business, ESPN said.
In a lengthy report detailing contact between Dawkins and several college coaches, ESPN also reported that phone numbers belonging to Dawkins and Miller were connected for calls lasting at least five minutes a total of 13 times between May 3 and July 2, 2017.
If Ayton or Alkins were found to have taken five-figure or more amounts as described before or during their time with Arizona, they could be retroactively declared ineligible to compete at the UA — and all games they played in last season could be vacated.
The allegations also could result in sanctions for Arizona if the NCAA finds them to be proven violations. Miller could also face NCAA penalties, even if he is found to have not known of them. NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52 states that head coaches are responsible for the actions of their direct or indirect reports unless they can “rebut the presumption of responsibility.”
In an October 2017 statement, Miller said he recognized his responsibility to “promote and reinforce a culture of compliance,” an important choice of words given what he must prove if allegations surface.