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The FBI investigation into corruption across the NCAA has shaken up the college basketball world.
With details still unfolding, the investigation into college basketball corruption has already led to ten arrests, including four assistant coaches and an Adidas executive accused of using bribes to bring players to schools that wear the brand. Additionally, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has been removed from his position amidst ongoing questions.
While the investigation spanned two years and is the result of a wide range of sources, one of the most important people involved in the case is a former financial advisor who became a cooperative witness as a part of a plea agreement after being charged with wire fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
As ESPN’s Mark Schlabach detailed in his overarching story on the scandal, the scandal starts with Marty Blazer, who founded Blazer Capital Management as a firm seeking to advise professional athletes and other persons-of-interest in money management.
Blazer was charged with wire fraud in 2016 after being accused of siphoning money from the accounts of several athletes for the purpose of investing in two film projects that Blazer had a personal financial interest in.
At first, Blazer had pitched an athlete on helping to finance his films, but when the client refused, Blazer was charged with using his funds anyway, allegedly taking $550,000 from his account and putting it toward the films. When approached by the player about the issue, Blazer then took money from another player’s account in order to pay him back in what the SEC complaint described as “Ponzi-like fashion.” As Schlabach’s report notes, Blazer was also accused of a number of other financial crimes, including some payments to college athletes for the purposes of steering them toward certain financial advisors and managers.
On August 4, Blazer reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attourney’s office, pleading to securities fraud, aggravated identity theft, false statements and documents, and two counts of wire fraud. Additionally, as part of his agreement, Blazer became a cooperative witness for the FBI, and quickly became a key component to the NCAA corruption case.
On multiple occasions Blazer would wear a hidden camera and recording device while meeting with important characters involved in the case, including Rashan Michel and Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person, both of whom are now facing charges including conspiracy and bribery.
At one meeting, Blazer reportedly had Person agree to accept $50,000 in bribes while the FBI monitored from afar. At another, Blazer and Person met with an Auburn player in New York, where Person allegedely told the player “The most important thing is that you … don’t say nothing to nobody. … But don’t share with your sisters, don’t share with any of the teammates, that’s very important cause this is a violation … of rules, but this is how the NBA players get it done.”
So while it may seem strange that the FBI is involved in the college basketball world, the case originally started out as a seemingly garden-variety case of an investor allegedly swindling people out of money. It just so happened that the victims were athletes and that investigation led the FBI to what many are referring to as the “dark underbelly” of college athletics, where corporations and wealthy adults are getting richer off the talents off young athletes.