Federal prosecutors want former USC associate head coach Tony Bland to serve six to 12 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in the investigation into college basketball corruption.
“The Government submits that, in this case, a meaningful punishment that includes a term of incarceration is necessary,” Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote in a memorandum to Judge Edgardo Ramos on Wednesday.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, Bland pleaded guilty to accepting a $4,100 bribe provided by an undercover FBI agent posing as an investor in July 2017 in exchange for directing USC players to use a fledgling sports management company led by chief executive Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood.
Bland is scheduled to be sentenced May 29. His attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, argued in a court filing last week that the former coach shouldn’t serve time in prison, citing the coach’s difficult upbringing, community service, lack of a criminal record and the relatively small amount of money involved.
The prosecutors disagreed. They speculated in the memorandum that Bland might have received “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes over time …” if they hadn’t intervened, though it’s unclear what the claim was based on.
“Instead of being a role model for these students, the defendant’s conduct demonstrated a blatant disregard for not just the rules, but also his students’ own well-being, as he made efforts to steer them to Dawkins, an inexperienced and underqualified athlete-advisor with a track record of alleged fraud and partners who neither knew anything about.”
The memorandum noted that USC eventually fired Bland, held out De’Anthony Melton for the 2017-18 season and stopped recruiting Taeshon Cherry, who had committed to play for the Trojans but ended up at Arizona State. Both players were linked to the investigation in the criminal complaint but weren’t accused of wrongdoing.
“There is no doubt that the defendant misused his position at USC to commit the crime, that he hid his crime from USC , and that his conduct now exposes USC to significant potential penalties from the NCAA,” the memorandum said.
The memorandum doesn’t detail why prosecutors believe the school faces “significant potential penalties” issued by the NCAA.
Prosecutors originally charged Bland with taking a $13,000 bribe but lowered the amount to $4,100 when bank records showed Dawkins deposited most of the money.
Bland will be the first of four former college assistant coaches to be sentenced, followed by Book Richardson (Arizona), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State) and Chuck Person (Auburn).
Only three sentences have been issued to date in connection with the investigation. Former Adidas employee Jim Gatto got nine months in prison, which Dawkins and another former Adidas employee, Merl Code, each received six months after being found guilty last year of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.
The sentences fell short of what prosecutors requested.