Judge rules Brian Bowen's lawsuit vs. Adidas and others can proceed

A federal judge in South Carolina has ruled that former Louisville basketball player Brian Bowen II's lawsuit against Adidas and others can proceed after denying the defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint.

Bowen, a five-star recruit from Saginaw, Michigan, sued Adidas America, Adidas employees Chris Rivers and James Gatto, former Adidas consultants Merl Code and Thomas "T.J." Gassnola, former NBA runner Christian Dawkins and financial manager Munish Sood in November 2018, alleging they violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by engaging in bribery, fraud and money laundering at the expense of his NCAA eligibility and athletic development.

Louisville officials ruled Bowen ineligible in September 2017 after an FBI investigation uncovered evidence that Adidas employees, consultants and others conspired to pay his father $100,000 to ensure that he signed with the Cardinals.

Bowen, 21, transferred to South Carolina for the 2018-19 season, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible again and he never played in a game. He played one year in Australia and signed a two-way contract with the Indiana Pacers in June. He is averaging 15.6 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA G League.

In last week's ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Anderson Jr. rejected Adidas' argument that it was a "victim" of the alleged scheme because some of the fraudulent invoices, which allegedly covered up the illicit payments to Bowen's father, were approved by some of the company's top executives.

"Adidas can no longer claim the case has no merit nor can they continue to distance themselves from the facts alleged in the Complaint," said Mullins McLeod, one of Bowen II's attorneys.

Bowen II's attorneys have alleged that Adidas America then-general manager Zion Armstrong, head of sports marketing Chris McGuire and director of finance Gerald Adams approved invoices. Armstrong was named president of Adidas North America in April 2018. Following the initial publication of this article, Adams, through his attorney, contacted ESPN and said that he disputes the claim made in the lawsuit that he approved any invoices.

"Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, this Court finds that the Plaintiff has adequately pleaded that Adidas had knowledge of the true purpose of the invoices," Anderson wrote. "This Court declines to accept, especially at this stage in the proceedings, Defendant Adidas' contention that it did not or could not know the true purpose of these funds because the invoices were not labeled as a 'bribe.'"

Adidas had previously stated that Bowen's allegations "have no merit."

"As we stated previously, adidas is committed to ethical and fair business practices, and we look forward to continuing to work with the NCAA and other stakeholders to improve the environment around college basketball," the company said in a previous statement.

In an earlier motion, Adidas' attorneys argued that Bowen's father was to blame for his ineligibility.

"The Complaint is a cynical attempt to recover indirect damages from his father's alleged co-conspirators for speculative injuries that he has not suffered and which he may never incur," Adidas attorneys wrote in a February 2019 motion. "Even crediting Bowen's declarations of innocence -- which the court must at this stage -- a careful analysis of the Complaint's allegations show that it fails to state a claim under RICO and must be dismissed."

Brian Bowen Sr., a former police officer, testified in federal court in October 2018 that he received thousands of dollars from Gassnola, Dawkins and Rivers for his son to play for Adidas-affiliated grassroots programs. Sood also testified that Bowen Sr. received $19,400 in cash as the first of four payments for Bowen II to attend Louisville.

Bowen Sr. also testified that a handful of colleges, including Arizona, Creighton, Oklahoma State and Texas, offered him tens of thousands of dollars in cash and other improper benefits for his son to play basketball at those schools.

Gatto, Code and Dawkins were convicted of felony charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in pay-for-play schemes to steer prospects to Adidas-sponsored programs; Sood and Gassnola testified after reaching plea agreements with federal prosecutors.

Rivers wasn't charged in any of the cases.