Attorney for man at center of bribery probe linked to USC player says his client denies wrongdoing

The attorney for David Elliott, the man at the center of the alleged bribery case that has sidelined USC sophomore De’Anthony Melton for the first seven basketball games this season, “unequivocally” denies his client accepted any money in relation to Melton or otherwise violated NCAA rules.

“Dave’s very disappointed,” attorney Alex Kessel told The Times in his first public comments on the matter. “We’re all disappointed that an institution that aggressively recruited [Melton] as a student-athlete is sort of turning their backs on him. We feel that we have enough information that shows there’s absolutely no nexus between De’Anthony and Dave and any irregularities or rules violations.”

But Melton remains in basketball limbo in advance of Thursday’s game against Santa Clara at Galen Center. He hasn’t been suspended, declared ineligible or accused of any wrongdoing. Still, USC isn’t willing to let the guard to play while it investigates, hoping to not run afoul of the NCAA.

A USC spokesman referred to the school’s statement last month, which described Melton’s absence as “precautionary.”

Federal prosecutors alleged Elliott received $5,000 from an undercover FBI agent during a meeting in August in exchange for agreeing to direct the player to use would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood.

Security camera footage of the meeting at the Hyatt Regency near Los Angeles International Airport shows Dawkins pocketing a white envelope put on a table by the undercover agent and appearing to maintain possession until getting into a car. Elliott doesn’t touch it in the video.

After the meeting, Kessel said, Elliott confronted Dawkins outside the hotel. The security camera footage doesn’t contain audio, but the men appeared engaged in animated conversation.

“He lambasted and got very angry at Chris for even suggesting that anybody get money,” Kessel said. “Dave asked, ‘Who are these people? Why are there envelopes on the table? Please don’t do that. I wasn’t here for that kind of thing.’ … He regrets he was apparently dealing with people who, unbeknownst to him, were targets of an indictment.”

On Friday, Elliott signed a declaration provided by USC reiterating he didn’t accept money or violate NCAA rules. Representatives from USC and the NCAA previously questioned Elliott for about three hours, according to Kessel. USC has interviewed Melton twice. He has turned over bank statements and cell phone records.

Kessel said federal prosecutors told him they don’t intend to target friends or family members of players linked to the sprawling college basketball investigation that led to the indictment of four assistant coaches, including USC associate head coach Tony Bland.

Prosecutors requested an interview with Elliott, but it hasn’t taken place.

“Here you have nothing, nothing,” Kessel said of the case. “It’s just pure speculation and conjecture.”

A few days ago, Melton summed up his perspective in one tweet: “Just wanna hoop man.”

NEXT UP

VS. SANTA CLARA

When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

Where: Galen Center.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Network; Radio: 690.

Update: Santa Clara junior guard K.J. Feagin leads the Broncos with 18.9 points per game, second-best among West Coast Conference players. … Santa Clara blew a 17-point lead in a three-point loss to Portland State last week. … USC has dropped three consecutive games after starting 4-0. The losses include Friday’s two-point setback against Oklahoma, which led by as many as 18 points. … Thursday’s game is one of six USC will play in 18 days.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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