Security camera footage is inconsistent with the FBI’s account of an August meeting that is a key part of the college basketball bribery case against USC associate head coach Tony Bland and would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins.
In video reviewed by The Times, Dawkins joined financial advisor Munish Sood, Dave Elliott, a close family friend of USC sophomore De’Anthony Melton, and an undercover FBI agent posing as a financial backer named Jill Bailey around a small oval table in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.
The video and the criminal complaint in the case differ on one main point: The complaint said that the undercover agent provided Dawkins an envelope containing $5,000 to give to the family friend at Bland’s direction, and that the friend received the money. The video — clear, in color, stamped with the Aug. 31 date and time across the top, but without sound — shows Dawkins receiving the money and leaving with it.
The complaint also states that the money was provided to Dawkins before the meeting, but the video shows the undercover agent brought an envelope to the meeting.
As other customers eat lunch or relax at the nearby bar, the undercover agent places a light-colored envelope in front of Elliott on the table. Elliott doesn’t touch the envelope. Less than a minute later, at 2:16 p.m., the undercover agent leaves with Sood.
More than an hour later — after Elliott finishes his meal and signals a waiter for the check — the video shows Dawkins reaching across the table, grabbing the envelope with his right hand and stuffing it in his back pocket.
Several security cameras in the hotel lobby and valet parking area show the men as they leave. Sood had rejoined the meeting after dropping the undercover agent off at LAX. The envelope appears to remain in Dawkins’ possession the entire time. Around 3:30 p.m., he gets into a black Nissan sedan driven by Sood and stuffs the envelope between the seats.
Elliott later told Melton’s attorney, Vicki I. Podberesky, he didn’t take any money.
“The video corroborates Elliott,” Podberesky said. The Times was only allowed to view the video, not copy it.
In the criminal complaint, neither Elliott nor Melton is named. However, Podberesky told The Times Elliott is the person who prosecutors claim received a bribe, and he is the close family friend of Melton.
The complaint accused Bland of facilitating a $5,000 payment to Elliott to steer Melton to retain Dawkins and Sood’s services when he joined the NBA. It also alleged Bland directed $4,000 to a relative of an unnamed USC recruit in a similar arrangement. Such payments would violate NCAA rules.
Melton isn’t accused of wrongdoing, but he’s been held out of USC’s first five games as a precautionary measure while the school investigates his eligibility.
Federal prosecutors interviewed Melton for about 40 minutes last month, Podberesky said. Melton, his mother, Monique Young, and Elliott also were interviewed by USC, the attorney said. Melton has given the school bank records and phone data. But there isn’t a timetable for his return.
USC and an NCAA enforcement representative have reviewed the video, Podberesky said. Bland’s attorney subpoenaed the footage and turned it over to prosecutors.
“The burden of proof belongs to the government, not the defendant,” said Steven A. Haney, the Michigan-based attorney for Dawkins. “We are not required to prove something did not happen.”
In an email to Podberesky earlier this week, USC’s Office of the General Counsel suggested the attorney should contact the NCAA on Melton’s behalf to seek a waiver so he wouldn’t miss more games. Podberesky said the email also told her to make sure federal prosecutors pursuing the case have the video.
“They’re not going to budge until someone tells them they’re not going to forfeit games,” Podberesky said of USC. “The lack of cooperation is really disheartening.” USC declined comment, as did a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case. Through an associate, Elliott also has declined comment.
Bland, on administrative leave since September, and Dawkins are among eight men indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the case. All eight have pleaded not guilty.
"It is somewhat surprising that the government did not bother to secure all hotel security camera footage from this crucial meeting before making arrests," Bland's New York-based attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said. "Because we have still not received any discovery materials from the government, however, we are simply unable to fully determine if their evidence supports their allegations."
Prosecutors accused Bland of accepting a $13,000 bribe from Dawkins and Sood during a July meeting in Las Vegas in exchange for directing USC players to use the duo as professionals.
The lone paragraph in the complaint detailing the meeting at the Hyatt Regency said during the portion the undercover agent attended, Elliott discussed “the plan” for Melton to enter the NBA draft next year. Elliott added that he talked with Bland, who didn’t attend the meeting, an hour earlier, the complaint states.
In the video, Elliott appears relaxed. He wore a white T-shirt with a black Nike logo in the middle and a black ballcap. His hands were almost always visible, usually gesticulating during conversation that looked like a chat among friends reclining in tan upholstered chairs.
When Elliott and Dawkins got up from the table at 3:20 p.m., the would-be agent pulled his shirt over the envelope sticking out of his back pocket.
Then Elliott walked over to the bar to pay for his food.