Lawyer: Christian Dawkins didn't commit crimes, break NCAA rules

NEW YORK -- An assistant U.S. attorney told the jury in a federal criminal trial Wednesday that the three men accused of conspiring to facilitate money from Adidas to the families of high-profile prospects to attend Adidas-sponsored schools paid them in cash, created sham invoices, funneled money through multiple accounts and used "bat phones" to do their business.

"This is what people do when they know what they are doing is wrong. And they wanted to be sure that they didn't get caught," assistant U.S. attorney Noah Solowiejczyk told the jury during the government's closing arguments.

But Steven Haney, the attorney for defendant Christian Dawkins, a former runner for NBA agent Andy Miller, argued that his client not only didn't commit federal crimes by agreeing to help facilitate $100,000 to the father of former Louisville player Brian "Tugs" Bowen Jr., but he didn't even break NCAA rules because Dawkins had a pre-existing relationship with Bowen's family.

Dawkins, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and Adidas executive James Gatto are charged with felony wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly paying prospects with Adidas' money to attend Louisville, Miami and NC State, which are sponsored by the sneaker company.

Gatto is the only defendant charged in a scheme involving Kansas recruits.

Each of the three men has pleaded not guilty.

The government spent more than an hour Wednesday delivering its closing arguments, followed by Haney's defense of Dawkins. Gatto's attorney and Code's father and attorney are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments Thursday morning. The jury could begin deliberations by Thursday afternoon.

The government contends the three men victimized the universities by causing prospects whose families had received improper benefits to provide inaccurate information on NCAA certification forms.

"If the universities had known about the defendants' secret payments, they never would have issued those scholarships, they never would have put themselves in harm's way and risked NCAA penalties, fines and forfeiture of contests," Solowiejczyk said

The defendants' attorneys have argued that the men were trying to help the schools by delivering high-profile prospects, often at the request of their coaches.

Bowen signed with Louisville on June 1, 2017, but never played in a game after federal agents uncovered the pay-for-play scheme. Both he and Dawkins are natives of Saginaw, Michigan. Haney told the jury that Bowen played for Dawkins' AAU program when he was 12.

Haney argued Wednesday that because NCAA rules make exceptions for student-athletes to receive extra benefits from people with whom they've had prior relationships, Dawkins didn't break any rules and didn't harm Louisville, which the government considers one of the four victims in the case.

"Based on the evidence, is there really any question that Christian Dawkins and the Bowen family, and particularly Tugs Bowen, had a prior relationship?" Haney asked.

Prosecutors introduced evidence early in the trial that showed Bowen's father, Brian Bowen Sr., was paid $19,400 in a New Jersey parking lot in July 2017. The money was funneled from Adidas through an AAU team controlled by Code and then wired to an account for Dawkins' sports-management company, Loyd Inc. A second payment for $25,000 was being processed before federal agents arrested the men in September 2017.

On Wednesday, Haney argued that prosecutors hadn't presented any evidence that linked Dawkins with the pay-for-play scheme involving former NC State player Dennis Smith Jr., whose father allegedly received $40,000 from Adidas.

The government and defense attorneys agreed that a plan to obtain $150,000 from Adidas for five-star recruit Nassir Little to sign with Miami didn't involve paying Little's family (his AAU coach, Brad Augustine, intended to keep the money for his program). Little is a freshman at North Carolina.

Dawkins wasn't only interested in Bowen attending an Adidas-sponsored school, Haney argued, but also those sponsored by Nike. Bowen was probably headed to Arizona until Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier elected to return for the 2017-18 season, and Dawkins told him to consider Oregon and UNLV.

Haney told the jury that even if Bowen's father broke NCAA rules by accepting money from Adidas, his son was already ineligible because Bowen Sr. had accepted illicit payments from third parties at least seven previous times.

Bowen Sr., a former Saginaw police officer, admitted during his testimony two weeks ago that he'd accepted at least $28,500 from various sources while his son was playing AAU basketball. He also took another $8,000 from Shane Heirman, his son's coach at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana. Heirman is now an assistant at DePaul.

"If paying parents makes kids ineligible, which is what [prosecutors] say, then I contend any one of those seven separate occasions when Brian Bowen Sr. broke the NCAA rules by getting paid, long before he got paid in 2017, made his son ineligible back then," Haney said. "Arguably, Brian Bowen Jr. was ineligible seven times before he ever got to Louisville."

Bowen Sr. also testified that he accepted $1,300 for rent from former Louisville associate head coach Kenny Johnson in August 2017, shortly after his son enrolled there. The alleged payment occurred less than two months after the Cardinals were placed on four years of NCAA probation and stripped of their 2013 national championship as punishment for stripper parties that took place in their basketball dorm.

"They thumbed their nose at the NCAA and within 90 days of not just being placed on probation for four years, but also being stripped of their 2013 national title, continued to commit NCAA rules violations by making cash payments to players," Haney said. "I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, does that sound like a crime victim to you?"