'Tip of the iceberg': More charges expected this month in college basketball scandal

During a news conference last month, William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the New York FBI office, cautioned college basketball coaches about the bribery and corruption case that’s shaken the sport.

“We have your playbook,” he said.

The wide-ranging investigation continues to expand two weeks after federal prosecutors in New York charged 10 men on Sept. 26 — including USC associate head coach Tony Bland and assistants at three other schools.

Two people involved in the case, who spoke on the condition they not be identified because of the ongoing legal proceedings, said they expect more college coaches and others involved with grassroots basketball programs to be charged later this month.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” one of them said.

One former high-major college coach who retains deep connections in the business said he believes the case will lead to 40 to 50 job openings for head and assistant coaches by the spring.

Already, some coaches at schools not linked to the first round of charges have retained attorneys. A sense of unease permeates the sport during a time usually filled with optimism because the season opens next month.

Five of the men charged — Bland, Arizona’s Book Richardson, Auburn’s Chuck Person, Adidas employee Merl Code and clothing manufacturer Rashan Michel — made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday.

Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, the fourth coach charged, is scheduled to appear on Thursday.

The brief hearing was a formality. Bland, on the two-week anniversary of his arrest by the FBI in Tampa, Fla., was released on $100,000 bond and is limited to travel in the Los Angeles area and New York. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9. The defendants are expected to be indicted before then, which would eliminate the need for the hearing.

Bland’s New York attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, has described the charges as “devastating” and “heartbreaking” for his client. Bland remains on administrative leave from USC. His biography, which once touted his elite recruiting, was recently removed from the team’s website.

The coach hasn’t made any public comment.

In a statement, Carol Mauch Amir, USC senior vice president and general counsel, said: “USC has been contacted by and is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

The day of Bland’s arrest, USC retained former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and his company to investigate. The firm, Freeh Group International Solutions, hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Prosecutors alleged Bland accepted a $13,000 bribe in July in exchange for directing USC players to Christian Dawkins, a former sports agent trying to start his own firm, and financial advisor Munish Sood. They also accused Bland of facilitating payments totaling $9,000 to the families of two current USC players.

Dawkins and Sood were also charged.

After his arrest on six charges including conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud, Bland told the U.S. Marshal Service that he makes $300,000 a year at USC.

The FBI used two undercover agents, hidden video cameras and microphones and a cooperating witness in the investigation that started in 2015.

Steven A. Haney, the Michigan-based attorney for Dawkins, declined to comment on specific allegations, but said, “I certainly question criminalizing the alleged conduct to the degree contained in the complaint.”

Haney added in a statement: “One should not be prematurely condemned based on speculation, accusations and misinformation. There is a story to tell here and that story is decades long.”

The case is already jeopardizing jobs. Though no one from Louisville has been charged, the school placed head coach Rick Pitino on unpaid leave last month in connection with the matter and put two assistant coaches on paid leave last week.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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