Auburn University and the NCAA reacted to news Tuesday about the arrest of four basketball coaches, including one from Auburn, on federal corruption charges. Assistant basketball coach Chuck Person is among 10 people, including four NCAA coaches, who have been arrested in an ongoing, multi-year probe of college basketball.
Person is facing six federal charges - 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.
“This morning’s news is shocking," Auburn University said in a 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.”
NCAA President Mark Emert also reacted to the news.
"The nature of the charges brought 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."
WATCH the Justice Department news conference (starts at 16-minute mark).
The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office have been investigating since 2015. It appears from the complaint, embedded below, that Person's alleged illegal activities started in 2016 and continued for 10 months.
Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, laid out the Justice Department's case in a news conference Tuesday.
"The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one," Kim said. "Coaches at some of the nation's top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes. Managers and financial advisors circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes. And employees of one of the world's largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to the families of high school recruits."
According to court documents, Person was paid $91,500 in bribes by a company called CW-1 in exchange for his agreement to use his official influence over student-athletes, one whom he believed would enter the NBA and the other to purchase suits from an Atlanta clothing store owner named Rashan Michael.
As part of the scheme, the complaint contends, Person claimed to have given about $18,500 of the bribe money to the families of two student-athletes who the coach sought to steer to CW-1.
Kim made it a point to single out Person in discussing the arrests of the coaches.
"Chuck Person, in describing his influence over one of his players, put it this way," Kim explained. "Quote he listens to one person. That is me."
Kim said Person explained that his players trusted and looked up to him, reminding them that he'd coached Kobe Bryant and had worked for Phil Jackson.
FIRST AUBURN BASKETBALL PLAYER
According to the complaint, Person is said to have told CW-1 there would be a new member coming to the Auburn men’s basketball team around January, the “9th ranked kid in the country” in basketball. Person said the athlete would play a year and a half in collegiate sports prior to joining the NBA draft “because he can’t leave this year because he has to play a full college season.
Michel allegedly told Person that he wanted to try to get involved with the player as soon as possible.
Person said the athlete’s mother would be handling the relationship with any advisers.
Person allegedly told a player during a meeting with CW-1 not to tell anyone.
Person is also accused of then exerting additional pressure on the player's mother for the same purpose, lying to her in at least three ways to pressure and influence her into retaining CW-1. The coach is said to have told her CW-1 was his financial adviser, that CW-1 was an adviser to Charles Barkley, and that Person was not being paid for connecting CW-1 with her son.
Kim said five days before making the statement that he was not being paid, he had a secret meeting in a Manhattan hotel room in which he accepted an envelope with $15,000 cash inside.
SECOND AUBURN BASKETBALL PLAYER
The complaint stated that Person and CW-1 started working with a second player in January. The coach told the player and his mother that CW-1 and an adviser would become his business manager and financial adviser when the player entered the NBA.
Person then allegedly told the mother later that they should just go and use CW-1, telling her she should tell CW-1 what she needed, and that, because CW-1 was not an agent, the payments were not illegal. Still, he cautioned her to keep the relationship quiet.
The mother is said to have expressed her gratitude to Person for “putting the right people around us.”
Person failed to tell the mother that he was being paid by CW-1 for steering her and her son to the company, according to the complaint.
AUBURN'S BLACK EYES
Person's arrest and subsequent suspension from Auburn is a black eye for the university on two levels. First, he's been a force on the Tigers' recruiting trail during his employment, helping head coach Bruce Pearl sign three of the team's best classes in program history. Second, he's also a highly-respected former player on the university's basketball team and is considered the best player in Auburn basketball history.
Persons still owns three school records (scoring, field goals made/attempted) and holds honors as the team's most prolific scorer as well as the team's third all-time leading rebounder. He's still the No. 4 all-time leading scorer in SEC history.
He was on the team in 1986 when he helped lead it to within a game of the NCAA Tournament Final Four and, in 2006, his No. 45 jersey was retired to hang among other Auburn legends' jerseys in the Auburn basketball arena.
Professionally, the two-time All-American is tied with one other as Auburn's highest-ever drafted NBA player. He was chosen fourth overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers and went on to become the NBA Rookie of the Year.
He played on five teams over a 14-year span but spent more than a quarter-century in the NBA as a player, coach, and front office executive.
He was an assistant on the Los Angeles Lakers bench under coach Phil Jackson during the Lakers 2010 NBA Championship. He also boasts of working closely with NBA MVP Kobe Bryant on his shooting and defense.
Person came back to Auburn in 2014 after behind hired by Pearl as defensive coordinator before later being promoted to associate head coach.
Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.