Federal prosecutors are seeking to block defense attorneys in the NCAA basketball corruption case from presenting wide-ranging evidence of pervasive corruption among college basketball coaches — a fight that could keep suspended LSU coach Will Wade from the witness stand to answer questions about recruiting conversations captured on FBI wiretaps.
If Wade were to avoid the witness stand, that would potentially help his case to return to LSU.
Christian Dawkins, a 26-year-old basketball hustler and aspiring agent, and Merl Code Jr., a former star player at Clemson in the mid-1990s who for years ran elite youth basketball leagues for shoe giants Nike and Adidas, are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud for allegedly steering payoffs to basketball recruits, players' families and assistant coaches.
Dawkins' attorney, Steve Haney, has indicated he plans to call Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller — both of whom have been embroiled in the scandal. Haney also told Yahoo! Sports he plans to "pull back the curtain" on college basketball recruiting and call "as many" college coaches "as I can get in the courtroom."
Wade's comments to Dawkins about a "strong-ass offer" for a recruit, caught on an FBI wiretap, might bolster that argument.
That wiretap captured Wade complaining about a middleman wanting a larger "piece of the pie in the deal" for the player, believed to be current LSU freshman guard Javonte Smart.
Efforts by defense attorneys to put the entire sport on trial, federal prosecutors wrote in a motion filed Friday, should be out-of-bounds in the courtroom.
They asked federal district Judge Edgardo Ramos to block testimony from additional coaches, almost certainly including Wade and Miller, though they weren't referenced by name.
"The defendants are on trial for serious federal crimes, and the defendants should not be able to use this trial as a referendum on the merits of the NCAA’s rules or the state of college basketball, in an impermissible effort to garner sympathy with the jury," prosecutors wrote.
Ramos is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks.
If he sides with prosecutors, it likely would free Wade from having to testify at the trial, scheduled to begin April 22 in New York City. It would also reduce the chance that additional wiretapped phone calls between Dawkins and Wade — if any more exist — would be trotted out in court.
That would allow Wade to avoid answering potentially embarrassing questions about his recruiting tactics under oath in open court.
It could also open the door for Wade to sit down with LSU officials and NCAA investigators to discuss the wiretaps, something LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has called a requirement for Wade to return from suspension.
Wade's attorneys have indicated such a meeting won't happen until after the federal criminal investigation concludes.
But dodging the witness stand wouldn't necessarily pull Wade out of the woods or pave his return to LSU.
It's unclear what findings might turn up in a possible NCAA investigation into the LSU basketball program or whether Wade or the program will face sanctions.
And although the federal investigation into college basketball corruption long appeared to be winding down, there are some indications Wade may have drawn the interest of the FBI in recent weeks.
Yahoo! Sports, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday night that FBI agents visited Baton Rouge after Wade was suspended March 8 to ask about his recruiting tactics. The Advocate has been unable to independently confirm that report.
Federal prosecutors contend Dawkins and Code made the payments to steer players toward endorsement deals with Adidas and contracts with Dawkins' fledgling sports management business once they reached the NBA.
But attorneys for Dawkins and Code argue the men played only a small role in widespread corruption in NCAA basketball, fueled by the hundreds of millions of dollars swirling around a sport played by unpaid amateurs, many from modest families.
Coaches and university administrators, the defense attorneys have argued, are aware of payoffs to players and routinely — if tacitly — approved of them.
Yahoo! Sports and ESPN reported the contents of the conversation between Wade and Dawkins on March 7. LSU indefinitely suspended Wade the next day after he refused to meet with university officials and NCAA investigators to discuss the report.
Haney has not responded to multiple messages from The Advocate in recent weeks. An attorney for Wade declined to comment.
Prosecutors also asked Ramos to narrowly limit the evidence in the case to a handful of particular instances, including bribes paid to former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, former Arizona assistant Emanuel "Book" Richardson and former Southern California assistant Tony Bland.
Evans, Richardson and Bland all pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges earlier this year. Their plea agreements did not require them to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Dawkins and Code, along with former Adidas global sports marketing director Jim Gatto, were convicted of similar charges at a previous federal trial in October which focused on payments to recruits headed to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina State, all Adidas-sponsored basketball powerhouses.
At the October trial, federal district Judge Lewis A. Kaplan repeatedly rejected defense requests to introduce evidence of corrupt payoffs elsewhere, including an FBI wiretap of Wade and Dawkins discussing another potential recruit, 7-foot Serbian center Balsa Koprivica, who's currently committed to play at Florida State.