NEW YORK — Text messages between former Louisville assistant coach Kenny Johnson and Brian Bowen Sr., introduced in court Tuesday, show the two planning to meet up in August 2017 in an exchange Bowen said resulted in a direct $1,300 payment.
It wasn’t the first time the payment had been alleged, but it was a rare example of direct communication between a member of a coaching staff with a player or parent who had received money, being shown in the federal criminal trial involving bribes and other corruption in college basketball.
Tuesday was the second day Bowen had been questioned about payments he had received or been offered for his son Brian Bowen II to attend various colleges. Those offers were communicated to him by former runner Christian Dawkins, one of three defendants facing charges on felony wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The charges stem from accusations that Dawkins, along with Adidas executive James Gatto and former Adidas consultant Merl Code, conspired to influence players to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools Kansas, Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.
In a text message on Aug. 23, 2017, Bowen Sr. asks Johnson if he wants to “get together to square up,” and Johnson responded, “OK, call you later on.” Bowen Sr. testified that Johnson came to his residence and he met him in the car, where the $1,300 was exchanged.
Bowen Sr. said Johnson had initially refused to give him money when the two met in June 2017, after Bowen Sr. said Dawkins had told him the coach was going to give him money. “[Johnson] was flabbergasted. He was shocked. He said he couldn’t do that,” Bowen Sr. said. “His wife would kill him.”
Bowen Sr. said that after Johnson gave him money during the second meeting, “He made it pretty clear this was a one-time deal for him.” Prosecutors, who have been trying to get beyond the obvious commission of NCAA violations and establish that the defendants’ actions were actual crimes, also shared several text messages and phone calls showing the concern Dawkins and Bowen Sr. had about their conversations being found out from someone other than the NCAA.
The texts and phone calls included conversations about how to receive and transport the money undetected, and the two men corresponded about using multiple phones — including one that Bowen Sr. referred to as his “bat phone.”
When asked why he didn’t trust that phone, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Diskant asked Bowen Sr. if he was worried about the NCAA or Louisville intercepting his calls, to which he answered, “No.” He also testified that after the FBI showed up to interview him on Sept. 26, 2017, he tossed his bat phone.
Later, the government played a phone call between Dawkins and one of the undercover agents from August 2017 discussing payments to various athletes in which Dawkins says, “Some of it is, whatever you want to call it, illegal, against NCAA rules or whatever.” At the end of portion of the call played, Dawkins says, “Now, we’re talking about in five years we could be more powerful than anybody in the business.”
The defense attempted to paint a picture of a preexisting relationship between Bowen Sr. and Dawkins. Steve Haney, Dawkins’ attorney, asked Bowen Sr. how long he has known Dawkins and his family, and whether Dawkins mentioned he wanted to become Bowen II’s agent.
“I’m double his age,” Bowen Sr. said. “It can’t be that far back.”
Haney also asked Bowen Sr. if the Bowen and Dawkins families “[helped] each other out” and if Dawkins thought of Bowen II as his “little brother.” He pointed out Dawkins first coached Bowen II when Bowen II was 12 years old and playing for the Dorian’s Pride grassroots program, which was run by Dawkins.
Haney looked to show Bowen Sr. accepted illicit payments long before he agreed to send his son to Louisville in exchange for $100,000 on behalf of Adidas. Bowen Sr. again admitted receiving money from multiple coaches and entities since Bowen II entered high school.
Bowen Sr. testified he received $8,000 from then-head coach Shane Heirman for Bowen II to play at La Lumiere School (Indiana). Heirman is now an assistant coach at DePaul.
He also said he received money to play for Mean Streets, a Nike-sponsored grassroots program based out of Chicago. Bowen Sr. testified he was paid $5,000 in cash by Tai Streets, the director of Mean Streets, and was given another $1,500 for travel by Tim Anderson, who was the head coach of Mean Streets and is now an assistant coach at DePaul.
“It was no different than any other kid,” Bowen Sr. told the jury.
Bowen Sr. admitted he received $4,000 from Adidas executive Chris Rivers, and agreed to a $20,000 offer from Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola to play for the Michigan Mustangs, an Adidas-sponsored grassroots program.
Bowen Sr. recognized each of these payments were against NCAA rules.
At the start of Bowen Sr.’s testimony last week, he implicated four assistant coaches who he said Dawkins told him were offering money or other improper benefits for his son. They ranged from an offer to “help me with housing” from Texas assistant coach Mike Morrell, a $50,000 offer from Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack, to an offer of $100,000 and “a lucrative job” from Creighton assistant coach Preston Murphy, and an offer of $150,000 cash from Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans.
On Tuesday, Bowen Sr. acknowledged three of those offers: $100,000 and “high-paying” jobs for Bowen Sr. and Bowen’s mother, Carrie Malecke, from Creighton; $150,000 and an $80,000 car from Oklahoma State; and free housing from Texas.
In opening statements, defense attorneys had said Oregon had offered an “astronomical amount of money” for Bowen II, but Bowen Sr. said last week, “I don’t recall that.” Attorneys said after that offer from Oregon, a Nike school, Gatto was then asked if Adidas would “level the playing field” and offer $100,000 for Bowen II to attend Louisville.
Haney asked Bowen Sr. about accepting $3,000 from Oregon assistant coach Tony Stubblefield on an unofficial visit.
“I don’t recall that,” Bowen Sr. responded.
Haney also asked him about an offer from UCLA, conveyed to Bowen Sr. by Anderson.
“I don’t recall that,” Bowen Sr. again responded.
In an attempt to address the credibility of Bowen Sr. — a former police officer in Saginaw, Michigan — Haney asked him a series of questions about having lied to the FBI, failing to file taxes, and engaging in an illegal welfare scheme, along with the deal he struck with the government to avoid being prosecuted.
“Police officers aren’t very popular in prison, are they?” Haney asked.
Merl Code Sr., father and attorney for defendant Merl Code Jr., who played basketball at Clemson, briefly but explosively cross-examined Bowen Sr.
Code Sr. asked Bowen Sr. about a text message he sent to Dawkins, stating “[Expletive], I need some ass in New York City.”
Diskant successfully objected.
Code Sr. finished with an accusatory question.
“Isn’t it true, Mr. Bowen, that because of Tugs’ talent, you have been pimping your namesake since he was 15 years old?” Code Sr. asked.
Diskant objected to the question, and Code Sr. had no further questions.
Bowen Sr. subsequently got up and walked out of the courtroom, smiling.