Judge upholds charges against ex-Auburn Coach Chuck Person
A New York judge gave the go ahead Thursday to a trial next month over charges that former Auburn basketball assistant coach Chuck Person accepted bribes from a financial adviser working for the FBI to steer athletes his way.
U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska said there was enough evidence to let the case against Person and Atlanta clothier Rashan Michel proceed.
She said federal bribery, wire fraud charges and Travel Act conspiracy charges against Person were supported by detailed descriptions and enough supporting evidence to let a jury decide the case. Michel was not charged with wire fraud, but Preska declined to toss out the other charges he faces.
A trial is set to start in Manhattan on Feb. 4. Both men have pleaded not guilty. Lawyers did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Preska’s ruling.
Prosecutors allege that Person — a onetime NBA star known as the Rifleman for his long-range shooting skills — solicited and accepted over $91,000 in bribes to steer Auburn players and their families to a federal cooperating witness, a former financial adviser. They also said Person encouraged at least one Auburn player to use Michel’s clothing company.
Defense lawyers had asked Preska to reject the charges, citing insufficient evidence and flaws in the legal reasoning used to bring them 16 months ago.
They said he did not commit wire fraud with any of his actions because any harm to the school was inadvertent. They also said failure to report NCAA violations is not a crime.
Among their challenges were claims that a recent Supreme Court ruling changed definitions of what constitutes public corruption, which should negate some of the charges.
But Preska disagreed, saying that the alleged behavior in the basketball-related case violates a contract while a high-court ruling that reversed the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell concerned conduct protected by the First Amendment.
Defense lawyers did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Person became the associate head coach at Auburn after a professional career that included playing for five NBA teams over 13 seasons. He was drafted by the Indian Pacers in 1986. In 2010, he earned a championship ring as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. Auburn, Person’s alma mater, fired him within weeks of his September 2017 arrest.
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