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Bank records indicate bribe intended for former USC basketball assistant may have been pocketed by middleman

Bank records indicate bribe intended for former USC basketball assistant may have been pocketed by middleman
Christian Dawkins arrives at federal court in New York on Oct. 24. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Fifteen months ago, security cameras in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel near Los Angeles International Airport captured an unusual meeting: two men launching a sports management company and the family friend of a USC basketball player gathered around a small table with an undercover FBI agent.

The undercover agent, posing as an investor in the company, put an envelope stuffed with $5,000 on the table.

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The government alleged in a complaint that the family friend, David Elliott, received the cash as a bribe to steer USC standout De'Anthony Melton to use the sports management company once he turned professional.

But Elliott never touches the envelope in the security camera footage reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Instead, the video shows Christian Dawkins, who planned to be the company’s CEO, stuffing the envelope in his back pocket, exiting the hotel, and placing it between the front seats of his black Nissan sedan.

And now the government faces additional questions in its case against former USC associate head coach Tony Bland, Dawkins and others. Bank records obtained by The Times from court records show Dawkins deposited large amounts of cash on the same days prosecutors accused him of passing envelopes of bribe money from undercover agents to Elliott and, a month earlier, Bland.

Several people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition they not be identified said Dawkins kept most, if not all, of the money provided by the undercover agents instead of giving it to Elliott and Bland.

The charges against Bland include conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud. He is scheduled for trial in April along with Dawkins — charged on six counts — plus former Arizona assistant Book Richardson and former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans. The four men have pleaded not guilty.

“I would only say in regards to the bribery charges and allegations specific to Christian, things are not always as they appear,” said Steve Haney, the Michigan-based attorney for Dawkins. Haney is not allowed to discuss evidence in the case because of a protective order.

Jeffrey Lichtman, Bland’s New York-based attorney who also represents alleged drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, declined to comment on the bank records. Spokesmen for USC and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case, also declined to comment.

Prosecutors accused Bland of facilitating payments to associates of two players with connections to USC — Melton was on the team, the other was a top recruit — in August 2017 as part of a “scheme to defraud” the university “by facilitating and concealing bribe payments to prospective and current student-athletes …”

On Aug. 30, 2017, the criminal complaint said, an undercover agent handed Dawkins an envelope containing $4,000 after meeting in Los Angeles with a relative of a player later identified by a person familiar with the investigation as five-star recruit Taeshon Cherry. Dawkins and the relative walked off together in a parking lot, but the complaint doesn’t detail the money changing hands.

The next day, according to the complaint, Dawkins, Elliott and Munish Sood, a New Jersey-based financial advisor and company partner, met the undercover agent at the Hyatt Regency. The complaint said the undercover agent gave Dawkins an envelope containing $5,000 for Elliott, but doesn’t describe how or when that took place.

Elliott declined to comment for this article, but he has previously denied he received any money.

The same day, Dawkins deposited $11,400 in cash at a Bank of America ATM in Inglewood, a short drive from the hotel where the meeting took place. The people familiar with the investigation believe the deposit included the $5,000 from the Elliott meeting and the $4,000 from the previous day’s meeting.

The indictment, which references bribes in all of Bland’s charges, alleged he deprived USC of its right to his honest services by soliciting and receiving a bribe to “pressure and persuade” Trojans players to retain the sports management company.

On July 26, 2017, according to the criminal complaint, Dawkins told an undercover agent Bland wanted to be paid $6,000 — later the amount increased $13,000 — in exchange for directing USC players to use the sports management company started by Dawkins andSood.

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Prosecutors alleged Bland accepted a $13,000 bribe three days later in a Las Vegas hotel room. An undercover agent recorded the meeting. He gave the envelope containing the money to Dawkins. The complaint said Dawkins, Bland and the undercover agent discussed future payments to Bland being made in New York, but it doesn’t say exactly how the coach received the bribe. The indictment filed in November 2017 said the coach got the money outside the room.

The bank records show Dawkins deposited $8,900 in cash the same day at a Bank of America ATM in Las Vegas. The people familiar with the case believe he gave Bland — who made $300,000 a year at USC before the school fired him earlier this year — some cash to use while in the city.

A jury in U.S. District Court in New York convicted Dawkins and two other men last month of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a separate case that revolved around payments to associates of players at Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina State.

Prosecutors introduced the bank records as an exhibit during the trial. The records cover June, July and August 2017 for the sports management company Dawkins started called Loyd Inc. The name is shorthand for “Living Out Your Dreams.”

Almost 400 transactions recorded in the checking account include flights, hotels, Uber rides, expensive dinners at restaurants such as Fogo de Chao and Morton’s The Steakhouse, shopping at Walmart, movies and rent payments.

The same day he is accused of passing the $13,000 bribe from the undercover agent to Bland, Dawkins took seven trips with Uber and another in a taxi. Dawkins also spent $102.84 at Stitched, a high-end men’s clothing store in the Cosmopolitan hotel.

Previous transactions included shopping trips at Ugg and Lacoste, $311.36 to a company that offers helicopter tours around Orlando, $937.42 spent at Suitsupply and $700 for a meal at Mastro’s Ocean Club in Las Vegas.

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