NEW YORK – Lawyers for a former Adidas executive who's a defendant at a college basketball corruption trial zeroed in on Monday on communications between a recruiting fixer and the head coach at Kansas.
On cross-examination in federal court in Manhattan, a key government witness, ex-Adidas consultant Thomas "T.J." Gassnola, was confronted with a record logging a call with Coach Bill Self, as well as texts he exchanged with Self.
The communications occurred amid what prosecutors say was a scheme by Gassnola, former Adidas executive James Gatto and two other defendants to funnel secret cash payments to the families of top-flight prospects to steer them toward programs sponsored by the sportswear company. While Gassnola has testified that wanted to keep coaching staffs in the dark about the prohibited payments to keep them out of trouble with the NCAA, the defense has sought to show the programs were aware of what was going on behind the scenes because of cozy relationships with fixers like the witness.
In the texts last year, Gassnola told Self he was in the touch with the guardian of Jayhawks recruit Silvio De Sousa. Prosecutors say De Sousa was among recruits whose families were offered payments of up to $100,000 in covert deals financed by Adidas.
Self responded: "We good," according to a defense exhibit of the communication.
Gassnola said: "Always. That was light work. The ball is in his court now."
That same day, Gassnola asked Self to call him when he had five minutes. Defense attorney Michael Schachter told jurors records show there later was a conversation between Self's phone and Gassnola lasting almost exactly five minutes.
"Do you recall what you wanted to discuss with Coach Self alone?" Schachter asked.
"I don't," Gassnola responded.
In testimony that concluded Monday, Gassnola suggested the exchanges were mostly about efforts to extend the Adidas contract with Kansas and to arrange for uniforms for Angola's national basketball team. De Sousa is from Angola.
In one text exchange, Gassnola thanked Self "for the help in getting the extension done."
The coach answered by saying he was happy with Adidas and added: "Just got to get a couple real guys."
Self has declined to comment on the testimony.
Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins and former amateur league director Merle Code have pleaded not guilty to defrauding the schools and NCAA by hiding the payments. Their lawyers say the schools and NCAA never suffered any harm.