The investigation involving LSU men's basketball coach Will Wade's alleged bribery of recruits may conclude within an independent group designed to handle complex NCAA infractions matters.
No notice of allegations has yet been sent to LSU. The notice could spell the end of Wade's successful but controversial three-year tenure coaching the Tigers.
An independent panel could make that ultimate decision if LSU's case enters the Independent Accountability Resolution Process — a system formed in response to a Condoleezza Rice-led commission on college basketball.
Two separate NCAA committees referred LSU's case to the IARP, according to documents obtained by The Advocate through public records request. The IARP's Infractions Referral Committee will decide whether to approve or reject the referral request.
The NCAA's enforcement staff urged for the referral because it first issued a notice of inquiry to LSU on Sept. 11, 2018, and it wasn't until Jan. 31, 2020 — "thirteen months after the information was initially requested," a letter writes in italics — that Wade's complete cell phone image records, which totaled nearly 60,000, were submitted to the enforcement staff.
In a 10-page letter to the IRC, LSU did not object to the basketball case being referred to the IARP, so long as three separate NCAA investigations into its football program are not lumped into the same case.
Jeffrey Benz, chair of the IRC, sent an email to all parties Aug. 21 that said the committee "will issue its decision promptly following its review of submitted and requested information."
No specific timeline was mentioned.
The LSU athletic department declined comment when reached Tuesday. Senior associate athletic director Robert Munson said the university cannot comment on pending NCAA cases.
Steven Thompson, Wade's attorney, sent a four-page letter to Benz dated Aug. 18 that said the LSU coach "takes no position on the referral request and is in favor of any process that can bring this matter to a swift conclusion."
Attempts to reach Thompson and Wade by phone were not immediately returned Tuesday night.
In a July 15 letter, the NCAA's enforcement staff first requested the case be referred to the IARP because of five factors — one being Wade's repetitive refusal to cooperate with the investigation and LSU's inability to secure his cooperation.
"His tactics during the investigation have delayed resolution dramatically," wrote Jonathan Duncan, the NCAA's vice president of enforcement.
Wade missed several deadlines to supply his records, according to Duncan's letter.
On Dec. 3, 2018, the enforcement staff issued LSU a request for production of email and cell phone records for the men's basketball coaching and support staff. They set a deadline for Jan. 7, 2019. Duncan wrote that his staff allowed three deadline extensions through February.
LSU's response letter, written by outside counsel Robert Barton and Mike Glazier, wrote that the university's involvement with the NCAA enforcement staff decreased.
"From that point forward," the letter says, "the NCAA enforcement staff dealt directly with Coach Wade's lawyers in discussing the parameters, timing and related issues on the text message (and later, financial records) requests. When those dealings involved telephone calls, LSU was almost never asked to participate."
At the time, the enforcement staff letter says, Wade was represented by two other other attorneys: Michael McGovern and Scott Tompsett. McGovern said multiple times that he had the records and was ready to give them to the school and the enforcement staff, but those records were never delivered.
LSU then notified the NCAA staff that Tompsett also represented Wade, Duncan wrote, and the staff requested the information again on Feb. 18 and Feb. 27, 2019. Tompsett responded in an email saying he should be able to produce the records by the week of March 11, but those records were never delivered.
The NCAA enforcement staff spent March unsuccessfully chasing the records.
Meanwhile, LSU was trying to speak with Wade in response to a Yahoo Sports article that alleged Wade was involved in an FBI investigation — a national storyline that ultimately led to Wade's suspension at the tail end of the 2018-19 season.
Media reports detailed a wiretapped conversation between Wade and now-convicted middle man Christian Dawkins. The conversation recorded by the FBI includes Wade openly speaking about a "strong-ass offer" he made in the recruitment of current LSU guard and Baton Rouge native Javonte Smart in 2017.
Wade was ultimately suspended because his legal counsel declined to meet with LSU and NCAA officials regarding the reports. He was reinstated 37 days later after he and his legal counsel agreed to meet.
LSU renegotiated Wade's contract as part of his reinstatement. He forfeited all $250,000 in incentive pay for the 2018-19 season, and a clause was added that makes it easier for LSU to fire him with cause if LSU receives a notice of allegations for either a Level 1 or Level 2 violation.
The meeting took so long, Thompson's letter says, because Wade's legal counsel was working "to ensure that the interview was conducted in a way that did not infringe Coach Wade's constitutional rights."
Wade moved to retain Thompson, who wrote that LSU and NCAA staff jointly conducted the interview April 12, 2019.
The NCAA enforcement staff's efforts to receive Wade's records continued. On April 17, 2019, Duncan wrote, they asked for all messages by May 8. Thompson asked for an extension on to-be-determined deadline. The staff granted the request. A firm deadline never emerged.
On June 24, 2019, Thompson responded that he'd produce records from one of Wade's two cell phones on a rolling basis, since there were thousands of records to report.
On July 10, 2019, Duncan wrote that the enforcement staff received disorganized PDF files instead of sending them in an organized spreadsheet, as his staff requested.
Thompson said in his letter that he was diagnosed with cancer following Wade's April interview with LSU and the NCAA, and he had five surgeries and chemotherapy during 2019.
"At times, Mr. Thompson’s treatment affected his ability to respond as quickly as he would have liked," his letter said, "but the NCAA appeared to be understanding and did not seek penalties for non-cooperation as a result."
LSU's attorneys wrote that they understood Thompson's diagnosis and treatment occurred over a six-month period in the middle of 2019. They also wrote that the characterization that LSU failed in getting Wade to cooperate is "false" and "unfair."
They said when the NCAA enforcement staff reached out to Wade again on Oct. 7, LSU athletic director Scott Woodward immediately contacted Wade and "informed him of LSU's continuing expectation that he cooperate fully in the investigation" and that he "make a timely production of responsive materials."
Woodward confirmed to LSU's counsel on Oct. 9, the letter said, that Wade had "assured him" that a "complete production" would be submitted.
The next day, Thompson sent an email dated Oct. 10 that said, "I am out of the hospital now and back in the saddle. Your email was sent when I was in surgery, so rather than responding chapter and verse, upon my return we decided to focus on the production."
"Similar to the NCAA, LSU was frustrated by the progress but believed at every juncture that Coach Wade and his counsel were acting in good faith in making the productions," the LSU attorney's response letter said.
On Oct. 14, Duncan said he received what Thompson described as the "complete production per your requests," although Duncan wrote it was also disorganized.
While the groups moved toward the final records submission, the NCAA enforcement staff investigated three potential violations in LSU's football program.
The enforcement staff confirmed that John Paul Funes, the former chief fundraiser for Our Lady of the Lake Hospitals, arranged employment beginning in 2012 for the parents of a then football student-athlete and paid the father a total of $180,000 from 2012-17 "for a no-show job," Duncan wrote.
Funes admitted in federal court in June 2019 that he embezzled more than $550,000 over a seven-year period, and he pleaded guilty as charged to wire fraud and money laundering.
LSU's attorneys wrote in their response letter that the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System met with LSU counsel on Nov. 6, 2018, that it "was LSU's first notice of the potential violation," and that former president F. King Alexander and former athletic director Joe Alleva notified the NCAA "that same day and proceeded with investigations."
The NCAA enforcement staff also investigated when former LSU star Odell Beckham Jr. was recorded on video handing out cash to Tigers football players on the field after the team won the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 13.
Duncan wrote that LSU "worked quickly to recover the money" and help investigate. Beckham only agreed to answer provided written responses to questions prepared by LSU and the enforcement staff, the letter said.
LSU submitted its summary of violations on June 1, Duncan wrote, and said Beckham provided four football players with a total of $2,000 in cash, which Duncan wrote LSU believed to be a Level 3 violation.
The enforcement staff also investigated another potential violation in January 2019, related to an impermissible recruiting contact by LSU coach Ed Orgeron.
LSU's attorneys wrote Orgeron was interviewed by the university's outside counsel and compliance staff, and he admitted to "inadvertent but impermissible contact with the prospect."
They wrote the compliance staff reported the violation to the NCAA on July 31, 2019, and self-imposed penalties, which included 30 days off the road during the next recruiting period for Orgeron, plus a reduction in the total number of permissible off-campus contacts with the involved prospect.
LSU's attorneys wrote that since the school and the NCAA enforcement staff "agree that the football investigation is complete," the football investigations should not be combined together with the basketball investigation within a possible IARP review that could take "6 to 12 months" to conclude.
"And while LSU does not object to the referral of the basketball inquiry to the IARP," the letter says, "it has many valid reasons for objecting to referral of the football inquiry to this process, and asks that the committee give those reasons proper consideration in reviewing the enforcement staffs request."
Staff writer Amie Just contributed to this report.