Ex-Adidas fixer testifies Rick Pitino didn’t know of Bowen payment

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NEW YORK — Former University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was in the dark about Adidas’ plan to pay $100,000 to the father of former recruit Brian Bowen, according to testimony government witness T.J. Gassnola delivered on the stand Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

Gassnola, a former Adidas consultant and ex-AAU coach, testified that he kept from Pitino a scheme to pay for Tugs Bowen to attend Louisville. Gassonola said he at one point thought Pitino’s former assistant, Kenny Johnson, knew about the deal, but Gassnola testified Thursday that Johnson was unaware of the arrangement.

Late in Thursday’s proceedings, Gassnola testified that the day arrests were made in the federal case — Sept. 26, 2017 — he texted Pitino in a panic, when Gassnola was on a plane about to leave from Atlanta.

“I texted (Pitino) because my mind was going crazy and I was looking for information,” Gassnola said on the stand. There were no questions asked of Gassnola as to whether Pitino received the text or responded to Gassnola.

During Thursday’s proceedings, the government introduced into evidence phone calls and text messages between Gassnola and co-defendant Christian Dawkins.

In an Aug. 9, 2017 text, Gassnola blasted Dawkins after Gassnola had learned from ex-AAU director Jonathan Brad Augustine that Augustine knew about Adidas’ plan to pay $100,000 for Bowen to attend Louisville.

“Just FYI Your loose lips are putting me and other ppl in a bad spot man,” said Gassnola’s text, which the government displayed.

“In regards to what?” Dawkins texted back.

“Louisville Bowen Money etc.,” texted Gassnola.

The next day, Gassnola was recorded on a wire tap admonishing Dawkins, an aspiring agent, to be more discreet about the business they were conducting.

“This guy (Augustine) ain’t lying because there’s only four people that know about that,” Gassnola told Dawkins, before naming Johnson, Dawkins, former Adidas consultant Merl Code Jr. and Adidas executive James “Jim” Gatto as the only people who knew of the Bowen deal. “You got to be careful with that, man… that sh– right there gets people in trouble.”

But Dawkins said on the same wire tap that he did not believe Johnson knew about the deal.

Expanding on his role in the FBI’s pay-to-play scandal, Gassnola directly implicated Dawkins, Code and Gatto, who Gassnola testified was his superior while he worked for Adidas.

Read this: Bowen Sr. adds fuel to dumpster fire by testifying in pay-to-play trial 

When asked by prosecutor Eli Mark on Thursday if he ever discussed the $100,000 to Bowen’s family with Pitino, Gassnola testified: “I didn’t.” Mark then asked Gassnola who knew about the $100,000 payment. 

“Myself, Merl Code, Christian Dawkins and Jim Gatto,” testified Gassnola. 

Gassnola said on the stand that Dawkins called him in May 2017 and told him Bowen was interested in going to Louisville and that the family was looking for money. 

Gassnola testified that he told Dawkins, “We’ll give them 25 grand,” and that the money would come from Adidas. Gassnola testified that he also had a conversation with Gatto, who told Gassnola that there was “enough going through your account,” and that Code would handle the payment to the Bowen family.

After Tugs Bowen had committed to Louisville, Gassnola testified that he texted Pitino. In a June 3, 2017 text displayed by the government, Gassnola wrote to Pitino: “HOFer. Hope your (sic) in a good place. Bowen will help. Talk soon.” Pitino responded with a thumbs up emoji.

When Gassnola texted Pitino later that year, the day of the arrests, he said it was “instinctive” to reach out to Pitino in a chaotic moment.

“Everything hit me as I came through the airport,” Gassnola testified. “It was instinctive. I reached out to (Pitino). Not sure why.” Gassnola also testified that the same day as the arrests, he had $38,000 transferred from his New England Playaz account to his fiancée’s account.

“I knew it was only a matter of time before you guys (the feds) knocked on my door,” Gassnola testified.

Earlier this year, Gassnola pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and signed a cooperation agreement with the government. 

Gassnola testified that he made payments to the families of five players — Brian “Tugs” Bowen, Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa, Dennis Smith Jr. and Deandre Ayton — and attempted to conceal the payments from different universities. 

Among the payments Gassnola admitted to making during Thursday’s testimony:

  • $89,000 in multiple cash and wire transfers to Preston’s mother and her partner.
  • $15,000 to a family friend of Ayton that was to be given to Ayton’s mother when Ayton was a junior in high school.
  • Delivered $40,000 in cash for Smith Jr. to NC State assistant Orlando Early’s house. Gassnola said Early was to give the money to Smith’s trainer.
  • $2,500 to De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, for online courses. Gassnola testified that Falmagne was paid $60,000 by a Maryland booster and needed to pay it back to go Kansas. Gassnola offered $20,000 to help but said he never paid it.

Gassnola testified Wednesday that his involvement with Tugs Bowen dated back to Bowen’s sophomore year of high school, when Gassnola said Dawkins told him the Bowen family needed $25,000 so Tugs could play for Adidas-sponsored AAU team Michigan Mustangs. 

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Gassnola said he and Dawkins met with Bowen Sr., Tugs, and Bowen Jr.’s mother in a Saginaw, Michigan restaurant to finalize the switch by Tugs to play for the Mustangs. Gassnola then testified that he sent $7,000 to the Bowen family — he couldn’t remember who — and placed the cash amount in a magazine before enclosing the cash-stuffed magazine in an envelope. 

Adidas executive Chris Rivers supplied the rest of the $25,000, Gassnola testified. 

Although neither Pitino nor Johnson were supposedly aware of the $100,000 deal, Brian Bowen Sr. testified Tuesday that he received $1,300 cash from Johnson on Aug. 23, 2017. The money was intended as rent payment for the Bowen family to live at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. 

Johnson reportedly made the payment nine weeks after Louisville was put on probation by the NCAA in a June 15, 2017, infractions ruling stemming from the school’s escort scandal. 

Christian Red contributed to this story. Danielle Lerner: 502-582-4042; dlerner@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @Danielle_Lerner. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/daniellel.

Source : https://www.courier-journal.com/story/sports/college/basketball/2018/10/11/pay-play-trial-rick-pitino-didnt-know-bowen-payment/1599909002/