A longtime assistant coach in the University of Arizona men’s basketball program faces criminal charges in a sweeping federal corruption investigation into bribes involving college coaches, sports agents and student recruits.
Emanuel “Book” Richardson, 44, was suspended with pay by the UA before he appeared in federal court in Tucson Tuesday for an initial appearance on suspicion of bribery and fraud charges. He was released on a $50,000 bond.
Richardson appeared in front of Magistrate Judge D. Thomas Ferraro wearing a pair of black athletic shorts and a red T-shirt emblazoned with “New Orleans Basketball.” His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 10 in New York.
The prosecutor asked Ferraro to set a $100,000 bond, but Richardson’s defense attorney, Brick Storts, said that was “totally unreasonable,” after which Ferraro agreed to the lower bond. Richardson is to pay for his own defense in the criminal case, said Megan Rose, an Arizona Department of Administration spokeswoman.
Richardson faces up to 60 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine if convicted of all charges, the judge said.
The FBI has been investigating the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes since 2015. The probe covered bribes paid to players’ advisers, college assistants and others who exude influence over student-athletes, federal authorities contend.
It’s unclear what Richardson’s situation will mean immediately for head coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats, who — thanks in part to another highly regarded recruiting class — will likely be picked either No. 1 or No. 2 nationally to start the 2017-18 season.
Arizona officials said they will “cooperate fully with authorities as they move through their investigation.”
‘Dark underbelly’ of college basketball
Richardson is accused of taking $20,000 in bribes last summer and paying an unnamed recruit to commit to Arizona. It was part of a scheme in which three other college assistant coaches — USC’s Tony Bland, Auburn’s Chuck Person and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans — have also been implicated, according to the complaint.
The four coaches were among 10 people charged Tuesday with federal crimes, including managers, financial advisors and representatives of a major sportswear company.
At a New York news conference, Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called the case a two-part scheme: One involved bribes from managers to coaches for their assistance in securing future clients; the other involved Adidas and “advisors” who would make coach-requested payments to players and their families.
Between February and September, co-defendants Christian Dawkins and Munish Sood paid Richardson $20,000 in bribes, “some of which Richardson appears to have kept for himself and some of which he appears to have provided to at least one prospective high school basketball player” in order to recruit the player to UA, the complaint says.
In exchange for the money, Richardson agreed to direct UA players to hire Dawkins as manager and Sood as financial adviser following their college careers, according to the complaint.
In a phone conversation recorded by the FBI, Dawkins told Sood and an undercover agent that “the path to securing commitments from college athletes was through assistant coaches … the head coach … ain’t willing to (take bribes) ‘cause they’re making too much money. And it’s too risky,’” the complaint says.
“If you read the three complaints, over 100 pages, you will find yourselves inside the dark underbelly of college basketball,” said Kim, the New York prosecutor. “The madness of college basketball went well beyond the big dance in March.”
Recruit’s mom sought payment, complaint says
An FBI wiretap recorded a June conversation between Dawkins and Richardson in which the two discuss a high school basketball player that Richardson was going to pay to come play for the UA, the complaint says.
On June 20, Richardson met with Sood and an undercover FBI agent in New York and accepted a $5,000 cash bribe, according to the complaint.
A few weeks later, Dawkins told an undercover agent that Richardson needed another $15,000 to secure the player, who Dawkins identified as a “top point guard in the country,” the complaint says.
On July 20, in a meeting at Sood’s New Jersey office, Richardson collected the $15,000 and told Sood and an undercover agent that the player in question had committed, but his mother was asking for money because “she didn’t know what I was already doing for her son,” the complaint says.
In a meeting in August, Richardson told Dawkins and Sood which current UA basketball players he intended to steer to Dawkins’ new management company, the complaint says.
Players trusted coaches
Kim, the U.S. attorney, said the four indicted assistant coaches from the four universities had one thing in common. “All of them had the trust of players they recruited, young men who looked up to them and believed their coaches had their best interests at heart,” he said.
“In exchange for bribes, these coaches pushed advisors on their players and their families.”
Richardson, who was paid $235,000 from Arizona in 2016-17, is in his ninth season with the Wildcats and 11th overall under Miller.
Richardson, a native of New York who ran the New York Gauchos travel ball program before joining Miller at Xavier, helped recruit many East Coast players to Arizona, including current standout Rawle Alkins and former Wildcats Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom.
Richardson was also involved in the recruitment of highly regarded New Jersey point guard Jahvon Quinerly, a high school senior who last month committed to play for the Wildcats in 2018-19.
It’s unclear what effect Richardson’s arrest will have on Arizona with regards to the NCAA.
“We work under the basic directive that all department personnel operate within applicable laws and NCAA rules,” the UA said in a written statement. “The behavior that Richardson is accused of is completely unacceptable and does not reflect the principles of this athletics department.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Tuesday he is “deeply troubled by the charges filed in federal court today against a number of individuals involved in college basketball, including two assistant coaches employed by member institutions of our conference.”
“Protection of our student-athletes, and of the integrity of competition, is the conference’s top priority,” he said.
“I have been in contact with the leadership of both universities and it is clear they also take this matter very seriously. We are still learning the facts of this matter, but these allegations, if true, are profoundly upsetting to me. They strike at the heart of the integrity of our programs, and of the game that so many people love and play the right way.”