Attorneys representing the three men convicted of funneling money from Adidas to the families of high-profile recruits to steer them to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools filed an appeal Tuesday.
A federal jury in New York convicted former Adidas executive James Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code and aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins in October on felony charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in pay-for-play schemes to influence recruits to sign with Kansas, Louisville and NC State.
U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sentenced the men to federal prison in March. Gatto received a nine-month sentence; Code and Dawkins each received six months.
In the 144-page appeal filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Tuesday, the defendants' attorneys wrote that their clients might have broken NCAA rules but didn't commit federal crimes.
"It is not illegal to give someone money to persuade him to attend a particular college," the lawyers wrote. "A grandmother can offer her grandson a car as an inducement to attend her alma mater. Indeed, colleges regularly offer scholarships and other direct financial assistance to prospective students to convince them to enroll.
"These actions do not violate the law. Appellants James Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins were charged with federal wire fraud because they arranged for money to be provided to the families of talented high school basketball players to help recruit those athletes to universities sponsored by Adidas, the sports apparel company."
Among other arguments, the attorneys wrote that their clients were convicted of a fraud they did not know about; that the district court did not follow the appeals court's precedent when instructing the jury regarding alleged requests for payments made by college basketball coaches; that the district court erred in refusing to instruct the jury that the defendants couldn't be convicted simply because they understood that NCAA penalties were a possible consequence of their conduct; and that the district court gave an unprecedented "dual intent" instruction that "served no purpose other than to sideline the appellants' defense."
"The District Court's instructions also undermined Appellants' defenses," the attorneys wrote. "Appellants' principal argument at trial was that they were trying to help the Universities, not harm them. The payments to the families were intended to help the Universities field winning basketball teams, which Appellants believed were great for the Universities, as a successful men's basketball team was worth tens of millions of dollars to each of the Universities.
"In fact, the Universities' basketball coaches had asked Appellants to provide the funds to the recruits' families. As a result, Appellants never saw themselves as defrauding the Universities, because in their view, it was the Universities which had asked Appellants to make these payments in the first place."
Code and Dawkins also were convicted in May in a separate federal criminal case involving alleged bribes to assistant coaches at Arizona, Oklahoma State and Southern California to influence their players to sign with Dawkins' fledgling sports management company and certain financial advisers.
A jury convicted Dawkins of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, and Code was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery.