AUBURN, Al – Auburn associate men’s basketball coach Chuck Person has been arrested on federal corruption charges following a 32-page sealed complaint filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Person, who was hired by Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl in 2014, faces six charges that could carry a sentence of 80 years in prison if he’s found guilty.
The charges include bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes and gratuities, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and travel act conspiracy.
Auburn suspended Person indefinitely without pay after news of the charges broke. Person appeared in court in Montgomery on Tuesday and was released from custody. He was ordered to appear in court in the Southern District of New York on Oct. 10 at 9 a.m.
Auburn has hired an independent law firm to investigate the men’s basketball program. It is the same law firm investigating the Auburn softball program.
“This morning’s news is shocking,” the university said in a released statement. “We are saddened, angry and disappointed. We have suspended Coach Person without pay effective immediately. We are committed to playing by the rules, and that’s what we expect from our coaches. In the meantime, Auburn is working closely with law enforcement, and we will help them in their investigation in any way we can.”
In total, 10 people have been charged across three separate, but similar complaints by federal investigators resulting from “a scheme involving bribery, corruption and fraud in intercollegiate athletics.”
The complaint further explains that “since 2015 the FBI and United States Attorney’s Office have been investigating the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate basketball governed by the NCAA.”
Bill Sweeney, assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, said the investigation was covert until Tuesday and the NCAA was unaware of the FBI’s operation.
Four NCAA Division I assistant coaches, three people associated with professional managers and advisors, and three people associated with Adidas were charged and arrested as a result of the investigations.
“The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one,” said Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes. Managers and financial advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of one of the world’s largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to families of high school recruits.”
Person is named in the complaint, along with Rashan Michel, an Atlanta-based businessman who runs a custom clothing company that provides suits and services to “hundreds” of clients from the NBA and NFL according to this 2014 profile.
Person is the all-time leading scorer at Auburn University. He led the Tigers to three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, and was the No. 4 pick of the Indiana Pacers in the 1986 NBA Draft. He made $23 million in salary during his 14-year NBA career.
The NCAA responded to the charges on Tuesday in a statement from president Mark Emmert. “The nature of the charges brought to light by the federal government are deeply disturbing. We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior. Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust. We learned of these charges this morning and of course will support the ongoing criminal federal investigation.”
The three other coaches charged include Arizona assistant Emmanuel Richardson, Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans and Southern California assistant Tony Bland.
According to the complaint, Person received approximately $91, 500 in bribes from a cooperating FBI witness over a 10-month period in exchange for Person’s agreement to “use his official influence over student-athletes” at Auburn that Person believed would enter the NBA to retain the cooperating witness’ “financial advisory and business management services and to purchase suits from Michel.”
As part of the scheme, Person claimed to have given approximately $18,500 of the bribe money he received to the families of two unnamed student-athletes at Auburn whom Person sought to steer to the cooperating witness.
Details in the complaint, as well as Department of Justice documents, identify the cooperating witness as Louis Martin ‘Marty’ Blazer III.
Blazer, a former financial advisor in based in Pittsburgh, agreed to be a cooperating witness after the Securities and Exchange Commission brought securities charges against him, including misusing money he handled for professional athletes.
According to the complaint, Blazer began cooperating with the FBI in November 2014.
Kim, the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, said a simple Google search of Blazer’s name would have shown that the Securities and Exchange Commission brought fraud charges against the financial advisor in 2016.
In September of 2017, Blazer pleaded guilty to securities fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and making false statements pursuant to a cooperation agreement with the Government.
The complaint details several transcripts of phone conversations, wire taps, video surveillance and text messages recorded at the direction of law enforcement, in which the details of the bribery scheme are worked out, conducted and described by the defendants in their own words.
According to the complaint, beginning in September of 2016, Michel told Blazer on recorded phone calls that he knew several college coaches that would be willing to take bribes from Blazer. Specifically, Michel says “the good thing about it is, I got all the college coaches right now because, guess what, I’m the one that’s with them…I make all their suits.”
Michel told Blazer that he knew a coach at Auburn who needed $60,000 in the form of a loan, which the coach would pay back over a 24-month period, and that the coach was going to have “three or four pros come out a year…he’s got one or two of them that’s gonna be pretty high draft picks.”
On Nov. 29, 2016 Person and Michel met with Blazer at a restaurant near Auburn’s campus. Blazer covertly recorded the meeting with a miniature video camera and recording device he was wearing. FBI agents were also conducting surveillance of the meeting according to the complaint.
On that day, Person accepted $5,000 in cash from Blazer, with the understanding Blazer would wire transfer $5,000 more the next day at Person’s request according to the complaint. The complaint says the payments were part of Person’s agreement to accept $50,000 in bribe payments in exchange for using his official position at Auburn to steer student-athletes at Auburn to Blazer’s firm.
While addressing the complaint on Tuesday, Kim described Person’s influence over one Auburn player, “he listens to one person, that is me.” Kim also alleged that Person told Blazer that Auburn’s players trusted him and looked up to him because “as he reminded them, he coached Kobe Bryant and worked for Phil Jackson.”
One day after the November 29 meeting, Michel sent Blazer a text message that contained information needed to wire money to Person, including Person’s bank account number, the routing number for his bank and his address according to the complaint. The FBI provided a picture of text message exchange between Person and Blazer where Person asks when he can check to see if the money has been deposited.
The additional $5,000, provided to Blazer by the FBI, was deposited that day according to the complaint. Person was to also be provided with three additional payments of $15,000 as part of the deal.
On Dec. 12, Person brought an Auburn player to meet with Blazer and Michel in a New York hotel room. Auburn was in New York to play Boston College in the Under Armour Reunion at Madison Square Garden.
This meeting was also videotaped by Blazer, during which Blazer told the Auburn player he wanted to “make sure you have a face to put with the voice and the name or whatever, so ya know, so when we do get together…you’re good with everything.”
Blazer told the Auburn player he would get him a separate phone so they could communicate, to which the Auburn player responded, “cool.” Blazer also told the player that he would meet with his mother later and “we can help you out.”
The player told Blazer “whatever he good with, I’m [good] with, I trust him 100%.” Person then told the player that he and Blazer would “figure out” something to give the player every month.
According to the complaint, Person then made sure the Auburn player knew they were violating NCAA rules: “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. They get early relationships, and they form partnerships, they form trust.”
During that meeting, without the Auburn player present, Blazer gave Person approximately $15,000 in cash at the direction of law enforcement.
In the complaint, the FBI special agent leading the investigation notes that a subsequent wiretap of Person’s phone revealed Person was exerting additional pressure on both the Auburn player and his mother for the same purpose of leading them to deal with Blazer.
It also mentions that at no point did Person question Blazer’s qualifications as a financial advisor and business manager, his client base, history of successfully managing player’s money or anything else about Blazer’s business.
By that point, Blazer’s allegations of securities fraud by the Securities and Exchanges Commission were publicly available via a simple internet search.
According to the complaint, “nonetheless, Person persisted in urging the player’s mother, and later, the mother of another Auburn player, to retain Blazer’s services for their sons, and in doing so vouched for Blazer’s ability and trustworthiness.”
The complaint details a phone call from Dec. 17, during which Person told the player’s mother that her son “is going to be good enough to go first round. I’ve talked to a bunch of people … and I want him to leave to play in the NBA.”
During that call, Person tells the Auburn player’s mother that he has a financial advisor he wants her to work with, and that this advisor, Marty Blazer, works for both Person and Charles Barkley, a Hall of Fame inductee and former Auburn player, in the same capacity.
Blazer has never worked for either of them. Person also tells her that he is, not “getting anything” for recommending Blazer.
Person also tells the mother that Blazer will start “giving you guys…5 [thousand dollars] or so a month…so that way, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
On Dec. 18, after Auburn’s 76-74 win at home over Mercer, Person met with the player’s mother and stepfather at his house in Auburn. He went over how the payouts would be distributed to the player’s family.
“Your word is good enough for him [Blazer], and your word is good enough for me,” Person told them. “When [the player] gets drafted in June, then they’ll make a formal signing to be a financial advisor. Now, he is not an agent, so he can’t do any contracts. So when [the player] starts getting paid and…what percentage of money you’re going to send to [Blazer] for him to invest is going to be up to you guys. But [the player] should invest a large portion of it, if not all of it, and, uh, you shouldn’t work with more than one financial agent.”
According to the complaint, Person indicated he would pay the parents of the player “a few” thousand dollars a month for the next four months, the remainder of the basketball season.
The parents received $1,000 during that meeting according to the complaint. The money was provided by them by Blazer, who got the money from the FBI.
On Dec 27, Blazer wired $10,000 to Person’s bank account at the direction of law enforcement.
Days later, Chuck Person’s called Marty Blazer and tried to cut out Rashan Michel from their scheme according to the complaint.
Person tells Blazer that it was “a hundred percent that [player 1] is leaving” to declare for the NBA Draft. He also asks Blazer not to tell Michel that the player is going to declare to go pro.
“We are beyond him now, I mean obviously I appreciate him, you know, him getting you to me and making this thing work,” says Person according to the complaint.
Person says he has paid Michel money out of the bribe payments he has received from Blazer and Person now feels that Michel is trying to “double dip.”
Person tries to do the same “double dip” in January.
According to the complaint, Person began discussing with another financial advisor about setting up a meeting with the mother of a second Auburn player.
The FBI believes Person wanted to shop a second Auburn player to not one, but two ‘advisors’ and receive a cut from both for his services. The report states Person “initially intended for the [advisor] and [Blazer] to jointly represent Player-2, so that Person could receive money from both individuals.”
The second advisor balked at paying the parents of [ player 2]. On the call, [Advisor 1] informed Person that he did not want to make payments to [Mother 2] to ensure [Player 2] would retain Advisor 1’s services, in part, because such payments were “never going to be enough” and he “ won’t be able to stop.”
After the other advisor decided not to make payments, Person told Mother 2 to strictly deal with Blazer. Mother 2 thanks Person for “putting the right people around us.” The complaint details that Person never tells Mother 2 that Blazer has been paying Person for steering players to his business.
The FBI said Person received a total of $91,500 from Blazer.
Person claimed to have given approximately $11,000 to the first player’s mother and $7,500 to the second player’s mother. Michel received $49,000 for arranging the meetings with coaches and players’ parents.
Person was arrested Tuesday morning and was released on $25,000 bond. Michel was arrested in Charlotte on Tuesday and appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Court Judge David Keesler, who ordered him to appear in New York in two weeks.