A federal judge is expected to rule Friday if Arizona coach Sean Miler and LSU’s Will Wade will have to testify in the upcoming college basketball bribery trial in New York, ending a pretrial battle between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Agent-runner Christian Dawkins and former Adidas rep Merl Code are scheduled to face a jury trial in United States District Court starting Monday. Prosecutors say they paid college assistant coaches who, in exchange, steered their players to Dawkins for professional representation.
In a pretrial motion filed last week, prosecutors said defense attorneys intend to elicit testimony from subpoenaed coaches “about their involvement in NCAA rule-breaking by paying student-athletes.” They argued it would be irrelevant to do so and an attempt to unfairly garner sympathy from the jury.
The defense countered that testimony from uncharged coaches, in addition to audio evidence and recovered text messages, is necessary to show the “state of mind” Dawkins was operating under when he was accused of bribing assistant coaches.
Each side has filed three arguments for judge Edgardo Ramos to review, including final arguments from each side this week as Friday’s pretrial conference approached.
Here’s a breakdown of what each side has been arguing:
- Prosecutors argue that the defense should not be allowed to add evidence that they did not bribe uncharged coaches because, since there is no criminal conduct in those relationships, it is irrelevant and inadmissible.
“The defendants have represented that they similarly seek to offer wiretapped phone calls with both coaches to demonstrate the defendants had relationships with these coaches but, again, never bribed them,” the prosecutors wrote. “Such evidence of potentially non-criminal dealings with other coaches is wholly irrelevant to any issue in dispute at trial, and should be precluded.”
Defense attorneys want to play less than an hour of audio records and show a “small number” of text messages, collected by the FBI, that provide context to the actions of Code and Dawkins.
The evidence is “relevant to prove their respective states of mind and to disprove their criminal intent,” defense attorneys said, also arguing that Code’s state of mind “is the principal matter for the jury to resolve and ‘no better way exists’ to prove his intent than for the jury to evaluate the recorded telephone conversations discussed herein.”
Prosecutors say the defense’s plan to play “cherry-picked” excerpts of relevant telephone calls is inadequate. But defense attorneys say they are complying with the rules of evidence by introducing only that which is relevant.
- Prosecutors say there should be no mention of NCAA amateurism laws because they are irrelevant.
“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 said.
Prosecutors noted that Dawkins’ attorney, Steve Haney, told Yahoo Sports that he planned to “pull back the curtains” on college basketball’s recruiting underworld during the trial and that the defense would attempt to elicit similar evidence that would not be relevant to the charged offenses.
In a footnote, the defense said “it bears mentioning that this prosecution is the result of an undercover FBI operation whose purpose was to expose misconduct in college basketball.”
- Prosecutors say Dawkins should not be allowed to use an entrapment defense by saying the government gave him money in order to bribe assistant coaches.
Dawkins’ attorney says the government’s undercover agents and cooperating witness solicited Dawkins for a scheme that they devised, then paid him $50,000 “to do what he was told and not ask questions.”
“Beyond the origins of Mr. Dawkins’ involvement, there is also clear evidence that (an undercover witness) demanded that Mr. Dawkins pay coaches, even over Mr. Dawkins’ objections,” the defense motion states.
Prosecutors say Dawkins told a cooperating witness that he had already been paying at least one assistant coach before federal investigators became involved, and that Dawkins brought Code into the coach bribery conspiracy.
In a final letter to Ramos filed Monday, prosecutors also said Dawkins has not identified any evidence that shows the government pushed him to commit the crimes. They noted that Dawkins was the one who explained to his partner and a cooperating witness why it would be beneficial to pay an assistant coach such as Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, “to get in bed with somebody like (Evans) so now you got complete access to a kid.”
Meanwhile, Ramos did issue one decision Thursday at the prosecutors’ request, moving Friday’s pretrial conference from 2 p.m. Tucson time to 8 a.m. Tucson time in order to finish before Passover begins.
• In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Miller called UA signee Zeke Nnaji “one of the most versatile players we have recruited during my time at Arizona. He is 6-feet-1 but has the agility and skill level to play away from the basket and in the open court.”
Miller also called Nnaji a “talented student-athlete and high-character young man. Zeke has a very bright future, and he complements the rest of our 2019 recruiting class exceptionally well.”
UA wasn’t able to announce his addition until Wednesday, when Nnaji signed his letter of intent.
• ESPN quoted sources Thursday saying there were at least 18 calls and texts between Miller and Dawkins between July 5, 2017, and Aug. 8, 2017, to discuss subjects that included the recruitment of five-star forward Nassir Little. An initial 2017 federal complaint quoted an Adidas rep saying Arizona offered $150,000 for Little. ESPN has already reported that phones registered to Miller and Dawkins were connected for five minutes or more between May 3, 2017, and July 2, 2017.