Whether or not Book Richardson can avoid prison time during his sentencing Thursday, the University of Arizona says it is bracing for substantial NCAA penalties stemming from the actions of its former assistant basketball coach.
In a victim impact statement filed in advance of Richardson’s scheduled sentencing in a New York U.S. District Court, UA general counsel Laura Todd Johnson said the school is “facing the prospect of potentially significant sanctions and penalties from the NCAA flowing from the unlawful actions involved in this case.”
Johnson wrote that the university has had to hire outside counsel at “significant expense” to conduct internal reviews and investigations, and guide the UA through an NCAA investigation that “is just now getting underway in the aftermath of the criminal trial.” UA twice suspended another assistant basketball coach, Mark Phelps, reportedly for NCAA rules violations; the Wildcats are replacing him with former NAU head coach Jack Murphy.
Richardson, who was arrested on bribery and fraud charges in September 2017 and fired by UA in January 2018, reached a plea agreement in January in which he pleaded guilty only to a federal funds bribery charge while four other charges were dismissed.
The dismissed charges against Richardson included honest services fraud, in which UA might have been declared a victim. The jury in last month’s college basketball bribery reached a decision suggesting it did not believe universities were defrauded.
Richardson’s plea agreement meant he did not take part in the trial, in which a jury convicted aspiring agent Christian Dawkins of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery — but not of honest services fraud (Dawkins was convicted of fraud in a separate October 2018 trial, however).
As part of his plea agreement, Richardson agreed not to appeal any prison time of two years or less. His attorney, Craig Mordock, is asking for a sentence that does not carry any prison time. Mordock wrote last week to U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos saying that Richardson’s damaged reputation and lack of a prior criminal record suggest that he does not deserve prison time. Mordock also noted that no NCAA penalties had been handed down to Arizona.
Prosecutors responded with a submission to Ramos requesting the judge hand down a sentence in the 18- to 24-month range, saying Richardson’s offense was “undoubtedly serious,” and that it was misleading of Mordock to say Richardson did not cause UA penalties when some could be ahead after the NCAA finishes its subsequent investigation.
Johnson’s letter did not state the specific NCAA sanctions that could be handed down, but federal prosecutors noted that they could include a postseason ban, fines, a return of event revenue, reductions in money distributed by the NCAA, and/or scholarship and other recruiting limits.
“For these reasons, Richardson’s claim that he did not intend to harm the University is, at best, misleading,” the prosecutors wrote. “While he may have hoped never to get caught and thereby risk harm to the University, Richardson — with vast experience in NCAA basketball — was well aware of what would or could happen were his bribery scheme exposed, and acted in spite of this.”
Johnson’s letter said the UA learned later that Richardson was facing “various financial pressures and family medical concerns” when he was faced with the unethical and dishonest overtures of Dawkins and financial planner Munish Sood in 2017. But by going along with them, she said, Richardson violated his employment agreement with UA and caused “enormous pain and disruption” to the basketball team and entire campus.
“Mr. Richardson’s actions have caused — and continue to cause — significant damage to the reputation of the University, it’s (sic) athletics program, and most specifically to a men’s basketball program that had previously enjoyed a stellar record of success, on and off the court,” Johnson wrote. “Several highly regarded student-athletes de-committed from the University upon hearing this difficult news, and the recruitment effort for future players became substantially more challenging.
“Over the past 18 months, there has been a steady stream of unflattering articles and media reports, many of which unfortunately have been false or exaggerated but which, overall, have caused harm and embarrassment to this institution as well as demoralizing a very loyal alumni and fan base in the local community and across the country.”
The Wildcats lost well-regarded recruits Jahvon Quinerly and Shareef O’Neal from their 2018 recruiting class, and several other top prospects dropped UA from their lists. However, the school rebounded to land what 247Sports.com ranks as the No. 3 class for 2019.
Mordock, Richardson’s attorney, wrote that the coach’s “admittedly foolish decisions have left his reputation in tatters” and argued that he has suffered enough already through public humiliation and the fact that, as a convicted felon, his college basketball career is over.
Mordock also wrote that Richardson didn’t deserve jail time when others have behaved similarly, noting that assistant coaches at two other schools were not charged despite having been shown on FBI videotape taking money from agents.
One videotape showed during the federal college basketball bribery trial that concluded last month revealed former USC assistant coach Tony Bland, former Creighton assistant Preston Murphy and former TCU assistant Corey Barker all accepting agents’ cash. Of the three, only Bland was charged. On Wednesday, he received a sentence of two years’ probation and 100 hours of community service, but no jail time.
Prosecutors said they didn’t dispute that Richardson has suffered collateral consequences but argued that collateral consequences are not unusual for white-collar criminals and do not justify a noncustodial sentence.
They also argued that the court should send a strong message to prevent similar activity in the future by punishing Richardson with prison time, and that the court should punish him more heavily because his offenses were cash transactions and therefore difficult to detect.
Bland admitted to taking $4,100. Prosecutors wrote that Richardson abused his role by taking $20,000 over two separate payments and appeared to be already acting to steer UA players toward a new agency run by Dawkins and Sood.
Government prosecutors said Richardson even arranged a meeting with agency representatives and the cousin/handler for then-UA standout Rawle Alkins.
An undercover agent “thanked Richardson for facilitating this meeting, and Richardson responded, ‘I did my job,’” the government submission read. “Thereafter, as had been arranged by Richardson, Dawkins, Sood, and (the undercover agent) met with the cousin and ‘handler’ of Alkins.
“During that meeting, Alkins’ cousin indicated, in substance and in part, that Richardson had recommended to the cousin that Alkins should work with Dawkins and his new company.”
Richardson was alleged to have taken the $20,000 in part to help land a recruit, but Johnson wrote that the UA believes none of that money was given to a current player or recruit “based on all the information presently known to us.”
“Additionally, Mr. Richardson recently met with the University’s principal outside counsel and me and expressed his remorse, acceptance of responsibility, and the recognition that his failure of judgment caused significant harm to the University community, as well as to himself and his family,” Johnson wrote. “We appreciated his openness, candor, and gesture of goodwill.”
Johnson said UA believes in “redemption and seeing the good in people,” but that Richardson should be held accountable and “deserves some form of punishment.”
Meanwhile, the NCAA’s investigation is expected to continue for months.
Johnson’s letter, dated May 22, said it was “just now getting underway” in the wake of the trial. A UA spokesman told the Star on May 3 that “an NCAA investigation is underway.” However, an athletic department statement released the next day said “any reports stating that the NCAA has either ‘started’ or ‘launched’ a new investigation at the University of Arizona are entirely false.”