A federal judge ruled that LSU basketball coach Will Wade will likely not have to take the witness stand during an upcoming federal criminal case on corruption in college basketball.
Defense attorneys in the case had reportedly subpoenaed Wade, whose discussions with one of the defendants in the case about basketball recruiting were captured on an FBI wiretap, to testify in the criminal trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday.
Federal district Judge Edgardo Ramos, in an initial ruling Friday morning, decided Wade won't testify and that wiretaps or other evidence involving the LSU coach won't play a role in the trial, a spokesperson for the federal prosecutors in New York handling the case told The Advocate.
Ramos ruled that any potential wrongdoing by Wade was irrelevant to the pending criminal case, Law360 reporter Pete Brush reported. The looming trial focuses on alleged bribes paid to assistant coaches at Arizona, Oklahoma State and Southern California in exchange for steering college players toward particular agents and financial managers once they reached the NBA.
But Ramos also held open the possibility of changing his mind during the trial, Brush reported. Prosecutors in the case have estimated the trial will likely last several weeks.
Attorneys for Wade did not immediately respond to messages Friday from The Advocate seeking comment on Ramos' decision. LSU declined to comment.
The defendants in the case — an aspiring sports agent named Christian Dawkins and a longtime elite youth basketball organizer and Adidas consultant named Merl Code Jr. — are accused of funneling bribes to assistant college coaches and delivering cash to families of recruits.
"There are two head coaches that are engaged in systematic cheating at the highest level," Steve Haney, an attorney for Dawkins, said of Wade and Arizona's Sean Miller at the Friday morning hearing in New York City, according to reporter Adam Zagoria.
Miller's program has been extensively linked to the scandal. Miller's former assistant, Emmanuel "Book" Richardson, pleaded guilty earlier this year to a federal bribery charge. Richardson was accused of accepting as much as $20,000.
‘The evidence establishes very clearly that Sean Miller is paying players at Arizona,’ defense attorney Steve Haney said in this morning’s hearing. He told reporters afterwards ‘You’ll have to be here to hear the evidence’ https://t.co/QmcaiIfqET— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 19, 2019
At least three of Wade's phone conversations with Dawkins were secretly recorded by the FBI during a lengthy investigation into college basketball corruption that focused on Dawkins and executives at Adidas.
Leaked portions of Wade’s 2017 discussions with Dawkins about a recruit — believed to be current LSU guard Javonte Smart, then a star player at Baton Rouge's Scotlandville High — landed Wade in hot water with the university after Yahoo! Sports and ESPN reported their contents March 7.
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In the calls, Wade talked about a "strong-ass offer" for the recruit and complained about trouble closing the deal for Smart, griping that a middleman apparently wanted a bigger “piece of the pie” from the offer, which Wade said was “tilted” toward the recruit and his mother.
The comments raised questions about potential payoffs to recruits or other benefits strictly forbidden by the NCAA's amateurism rules.
Wade refused for more than a month to discuss those reported comments with LSU or NCAA investigators, prompting LSU President F. King Alexander to suspend the second-year coach for the team's run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
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Smart missed a single game — LSU's regular-season finale, in which the team clinched the Southeastern Conference title with a blowout win over Vanderbilt — but was cleared by an initial internal LSU investigation to return to the court for the postseason.
Wade was reinstated by the university last week after finally meeting with LSU and NCAA officials and denying any wrongdoing.
A third wiretapped conversation between Wade and Dawkins — in which the pair discussed highly regarded 18-year-old Serbian center Balsa Koprivica, who's currently in high school in Florida — was discussed during a separate October federal criminal trial against Dawkins, Code and former Adidas marketing executive Jim Gatto.
In the call, Dawkins spoke to Wade about “a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit" — a reference to Koprivica, who later committed to play at Florida State — that "you would have funded."
"I have got to shut the door,” Wade told Dawkins, according to court transcripts reviewed by The Advocate. Wade later added, “Here's my thing. I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work.”
The full context — and what Wade meant by “what you need” — isn’t made explicit in the portion of the call read in court, though both defense attorneys and a federal prosecutor both indicated they believed Dawkins and Wade were referring to payments of some type.
Dawkins, Code and Gatto were all convicted at that trial of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for funneling illegal payments to families of recruits to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina State.
Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan, who presided over the October trial, ruled like Ramos did Friday, deciding that the wiretap and other evidence involving potential payoffs or rulebreaking by Wade wasn't relevant to the criminal case at hand and might confuse jurors by further complicating an already intricate case.
Kaplan sentenced Dawkins and Code to six months in federal prison for that conviction. Gatto, who's not a defendant in the upcoming trial, was sentenced to nine months.
The criminal charges stem from lengthy undercover FBI investigation that rocked the sport when it was first unveiled by federal prosecutors in September 2017.
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Hall of Fame Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who had just survived a salacious scandal involving strippers hired to entertain prospective recruits, was promptly fired after recruiting his university became a focus of federal indictments.
Dozens of other universities, including some of the sport's most storied programs, have been linked to the scandal in various ways in the 18 months since.
Several players, including highly touted Louisville recruit Brian "Tugs" Bowen, were suspended or lost NCAA eligibility after federal indictments raised allegations about their recruitment.
But the NCAA hasn't taken action against any of universities or coaches tied to the scandal, instead holding off — at the request of federal prosecutors — until the federal criminal cases conclude.
Wade and the LSU men's basketball program are currently believed to be the subject of an NCAA investigation which could bring potential sanctions for the university, the coach or both.
An NCAA spokesperson declined to confirm an investigation, citing a policy to never comment on a "current or potential investigation," but LSU previously confirmed to The Advocate that NCAA officials are closely coordinating with LSU in an ongoing probe.
The FBI has turned down requests from LSU to share copies of the wiretaps or other evidence gathered on Wade. Ramos' ruling Friday morning that Wade won't testify appears to make it very unlikely those wiretaps will be revealed in the courtroom.
It would be highly unusual for the FBI to hand over sealed wiretaps or other evidence that went unused at trial to NCAA compliance officials even after the criminal cases conclude.
This is a developing story. Check back with The Advocate later for more details.