Feds turn up heat in recruiting scandal with Oklahoma State subpoena

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

A subpoena from a federal grand jury empaneled in New York has requested Oklahoma State produce a far-reaching mountain of documents, communication and evidence regarding “actual or potential NCAA rules violations” on the men’s basketball program.

The subpoena, first reported by the Oklahoman newspaper and acquired by Yahoo Sports via open records request, should end any hope within college athletics that the ongoing federal investigation into basketball is going to be limited in scope. Likewise, there is little chance this fades away if none of the 10 men swept up in the case cooperate with authorities. Included in that group is Lamont Evans, a now-fired Oklahoma State assistant coach.

Dated Sept. 27, one day after the arrests of college assistant coaches, sports agents, shoe company executives, an AAU coach and others, the subpoena essentially shows the FBI and the Department of Justice running a full-bore NCAA investigation, only with all the power of the federal government, not the hands-tied limitations of the NCAA enforcement staff.

It seeks “any and all documents and communications regarding actual or potential NCAA rules violations relating to the receipt of money, travel, in-kind benefits, or services by players and coaches.”

That the government is seeking information on “potential” NCAA violations is significant. In many cases, those actions would fall below or outside any federal criminal statute. However, they could have significant ramifications for not just OSU, but the sport in general if the investigation, as would be expected, spreads to other schools, coaches, agents, shoe companies, AAU programs, players and recruits.

It may also allow the FBI to interview people not directly associated with the initial case. While some people would resist cooperating with NCAA investigators, lying to a federal officer is a felony.

“You can easily imagine that each of these individuals will give rise to a line of an investigation that will produce new threads that will be pursued by agents and prosecutors that will have an interest in looking at the activities of others,” said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York who now teaches at Columbia Law School, of the potential strategy of the government in this case.

The FBI turned up the heat on Oklahoma State with a subpoena on Wednesday. (Getty)

Already eight of the 10 men have been processed in Lower Manhattan by U.S. Attorneys in the Southern District of New York. Two more are scheduled to appear Thursday at the Moynihan United States Courthouse. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 9, unless any of the men are indicted by a grand jury beforehand, Judge Katherine Parker announced Tuesday.

Based on this subpoena, that is possible. If nothing else, it offers a window into the no-nonsense thinking of federal authorities, notably Special Agent John Vourderis, who is spearheading at least the Oklahoma State portion of the case.

The Department of Justice and FBI have demanded all “writing, emails, text messages, drawings, graphs, calendar entries, photographs, audio or visual recordings, images and other data or data compilations.” It also requests anything found on “any cellular phone or other telephone, pager, tablet, laptop computer, desktop computer, personal email, cloud storage, messaging or social media account used by employees, officers, principals or board members of Oklahoma State University.” It even wants handwritten notes.

The records request goes all the way back to Jan. 1, 2014.

Evans, the school’s tie to the case, was only hired last March. He previously worked at the University of South Carolina. Since 2014, the Cowboys have had three head coaches, Travis Ford (now head coach at St. Louis), Brad Underwood (now head coach at Illinois) and Mike Boynton, who was hired last spring. Each had their own staff of assistants.

The school has until Oct. 17 to turn over the evidence or appear in person to testify to the grand jury.

“Failure to attend and produce any items hereby demanded will constitute contempt of court and subject you to civil sanctions and criminal penalties, in addition to penalties of the law,” Joon H. Kim, acting United States Attorney for the SDNY warned in a letter to the school.

It stands to reason other schools wrapped up in the case received similar subpoenas, although Yahoo Sports has not yet received any responses for records requests at the public institutions. The Universities of Arizona, Auburn and Southern California all had assistant coaches arrested in September on fraud and bribery charges for conspiring with agents, financial planners and shoe companies to steer high school prospects to schools and then professional representation.

The Universities of Louisville, Miami, South Carolina and Alabama have also been implicated in the case. Most notably, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was essentially fired after the initial complaints revealed a plan for $100,000 to be funneled to the family of top recruit Brian Bowen. He faces no current legal issues, however.

Meanwhile, the sport is waiting to see if any of the men likely to be charged in the case will cooperate with federal authorities in an effort to gain favorable treatment.

While the prison sentences in this case are likely low, these are mostly well-paid middle-aged men with families. Even the risk of a few months in prison is considerable. That may be especially true for shoe company executives Merl Code and James Gatto, who many believe would know the most dirt on how recruiting works across college basketball.

If nothing else, the subpoena to Oklahoma State shows the FBI isn’t waiting solely for anyone to flip.

A grand jury in Manhattan is at work and that can mean just about anything for the future of college basketball.

Subpoena acquired by Yahoo Sports

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