Basketball corruption trial drags in names of Markelle Fultz, Kyle Kuzma

NEW YORK -- A former financial adviser, who pleaded guilty to conspiring with three men to facilitate money from Adidas to the families of high-profile recruits and also bribing college basketball coaches, told a jury on Wednesday that he worked with another sports agent to provide money to people associated with NBA players Kyle Kuzma and Markelle Fultz while they were still in college.

Munish Sood, of Princeton, New Jersey, testified that he gave a $30,000 loan to someone connected to Fultz and paid an undisclosed amount to one of Kuzma's associates while they were still playing at the University of Washington and the University of Utah, respectively. Sood said he made the payments at the request of NBA agent Stephen Pina of ASM Sports.

Fultz, from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, played one season for the Huskies and was the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Kuzma, from Flint, Michigan, played three seasons for the Utes and was a first-round choice of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017.

In August, Sood pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud and travel act offenses, payments of bribes to an agent of a federally funded organization and wire fraud conspiracy. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to testify in this month's federal criminal trial involving Adidas executive Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for one-time NBA agent Andy Miller. The trio is accused of a pay-for-play scheme to send top recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools Kansas, Louisville, Miami and NC State. Each of the men has pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, former Alabama guard Collin Sexton, the No. 8 pick in June's NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, also was dragged back into the mess on Wednesday, the second day of the trial at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse in Manhattan.

In a text message that Dawkins sent to Sood and others in 2017, which was introduced into evidence by the federal government on Wednesday, Dawkins wrote that he gave $5,000 to Sexton and $2,000 to Brian Bowen, a freshman at Louisville last year.

In an email that Dawkins sent to Sood and others on Sept. 5, 2017, Dawkins proposed a business plan for their new sports agency. He suggested paying Sexton $1,500 per month and also providing $21,000 for travel expenses for his family. Dawkins also wanted to give Sexton's brother a job, paying him $170,000 over four years.

Alabama officials investigated Sexton's relationship with Dawkins last year; Sexton was suspended one game for a violation of NCAA rules before returning to the court.

On Wednesday, Sood also acknowledged during cross-examination by Dawkins' attorney, Steve Haney, that he met with Pina and another man to discuss paying then-Kentucky forward Bam Adebayo and other UK players in hopes of landing them as clients for his financial management company.

"Stephen Pina was trying to position you by paying Bam Adebayo, and other kids at Kentucky, and he told you it would be expensive, didn't he?" Haney asked.

"Yes," Sood replied.

"And you understood that to mean that you were going to have to pay a lot of money to get those kids from Kentucky, didn't you?" Haney asked.

"Yes," Sood said.

Federal prosecutors opened their direct examination of Sood on Wednesday morning by asking him about his July 2017 meeting with Brian Bowen Sr., the former Louisville player's father. According to prosecutors, Sood met Bowen's father in a parking lot in northern New Jersey, where he handed him an envelope stuffed with $19,400 in cash.

According to the government, it was the first of four payments totaling $100,000, the first of which was provided by one of Sood's new business partners -- who turned out to be two undercover FBI agents who were investigating alleged corruption in the sport.

During a meeting in a Manhattan hotel room on June 20, 2017, in which Code, Dawkins and Sood tried to persuade the undercover agents to invest in Dawkins and Sood's new management company, Code explained how the highly competitive "sneaker wars" between Adidas, Nike and UnderArmour worked. The meeting also included Pittsburgh financial planner Marty Blazer, Sood's former business partner, who was working as an FBI informant.

The FBI secretly videotaped the meeting, and portions were shown to the jury on Wednesday.

"We all have our own leagues with our own kids and we are trying to keep our kids obviously to see them grow and develop, but hopefully to be able to sign them as they become pros," Code said during the meeting.

"That's the ultimate objective. Now, in between that, you're trying to push these kids to your affiliated schools. For instance, Indiana, Kansas, Arizona State, Miami are Adidas schools. So if I could have the kids in my umbrella at the grassroots level, and I can now funnel these kids to my sponsor schools, I win at the grassroots level. My colleges win. And then, hopefully, I can sign them as pros."

But Code also made it clear to the FBI agents that a school's sneaker sponsor wasn't always the most important factor, even though he was working as a contracted consultant for Adidas. Code, a former Clemson guard from Greenville, South Carolina, had worked at Nike for 14 years before he was lured to Adidas.

"We have enough relationships with Nike schools," Code told the agents, before mentioning Alabama, Arizona and Florida State as Nike-sponsored schools where he had strong connections.

Bowen, from Saginaw, Michigan, was the No. 14 player in the 2017 ESPN Top 100 and was among the last recruits to sign that year. He was considering a handful of Nike-sponsored schools -- Arizona, Creighton, DePaul, Oregon and Texas -- before choosing the Cardinals.

During the videotaped meeting, Code told the FBI agents that Oregon offered Bowen an "astronomical" amount of money to sign there.

"I said, 'He is not going to Oregon. Wait a minute, let me work the phones; we'll get something done,'" Code said.

Bowen committed to Louisville on June 4, 2017.

"It got done in what, two or three days? It was very simple," Code told the agents. "Everybody won."

In a statement issued Tuesday night, the University of Oregon said it had not been contacted by the federal government or any other party involved in the proceedings but that it took the claim seriously and would monitor the trial for any other details.

The school expanded upon its statement Thursday, saying it had spoken with members of the men's basketball coaching staff and found no evidence of a payment offer to Bowen.

The elder Bowen is expected to testify at the trial as early as Thursday.

Code and Dawkins told the FBI agents that then-Cardinals coach Rick Pitino didn't know all of the details about the pay-for-play scheme involving Bowen.

"If you ask Rick Pitino if he knows what happened [with Bowen], he'd say he doesn't know," Code said. "He probably doesn't."

Dawkins replied: "He does know some. He doesn't know everything ... plausible deniability."

During Sood's testimony, assistant U.S. attorney Noah Solowiejczyk asked him if he believed Pitino was aware of the plan to pay Bowen's father.

"I believe he knew something, but not everything," Sood said.