Former Arizona assistant coach said he paid $40K to high school coach to ensure player's academic eligibility

Former University of Arizona assistant men's basketball coach Emanuel Richardson leaves Manhattan federal court in New York, after he was sentenced on a bribery conspiracy charge. (AP)
Former University of Arizona assistant men's basketball coach Emanuel Richardson leaves Manhattan federal court in New York, after he was sentenced on a bribery conspiracy charge. (AP)

In a transcript of a conversation recorded by the FBI in June 2017, but not previously published in the media, former Arizona assistant basketball coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson told undercover agents he paid $40,000 to a “high school coach” to help ensure the academic eligibility of former Wildcats player Rawle Alkins.

Public record from the trial of former agent employee Christian Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code this spring includes the transcript of the previously unreported conversation. In it, Richardson makes multiple references to paying $40,000 to have Alkins’ transcript amended so the highly recruited guard would be eligible to play his freshman college season in 2016-17.

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In the transcript, Richardson did not say where he got the money. He cited the payment as an example of the difficulty handling the demands of recruits, their families and those around them.

“So, again, is it something different each year?” Richardson said, generally referencing having to financially support recruits’ families. “It is. Like I said, $40,000 to do that was totally extreme. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not do it. I'd try to barter something. I'd give blood. I'd give semen, something.”

It’s unknown why the conversation was not used as evidence or played in court earlier this year. The 1,500-word transcript of the discussion between Richardson, Dawkins, financial adviser Munish Sood and undercover FBI agents Jeff D’Angelo and Jill Bailey includes Richardson speaking openly about arranging a payment of “two grand” every month to Alkins’ cousin, whom he said moved to Tucson with him.

D’Angelo and Bailey were posing as financial advisers who were willing to “provide … a pot of money each year,” as D’Angelo said on the transcript, to Richardson for use in recruiting in exchange for him steering Arizona players to them when they turned professional.

Academic fraud and payments to a player’s family are potential Level I infractions, the most serious on the NCAA’s scale of violations. Court testimony and evidence already implicated Arizona in numerous other potential violations, with the future of the program and the college coaching career of Sean Miller hanging in the balance as the NCAA follows up in the wake of the federal investigation. Miller has maintained he had no knowledge of or involvement in any potential violations within his program.

Steve Thompson, attorney for Sean Miller, declined comment. Arizona officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Richardson currently is serving a three-month sentence at the federal correctional institute in Otisville, New York, after agreeing to plead guilty to a federal funds bribery charge unrelated to the alleged payments to Alkins’ family or his coach. Richardson was not available for comment.

NCAA investigators are aware of the alleged $40,000 payment Richardson discussed. An August email from the lawyer representing another fired former Arizona assistant coach, Mark Phelps, references enforcement officials questioning his client about the payment. Yahoo Sports viewed an email from attorney Don Jackson to NCAA enforcement reps that said, in part: “Based upon the questioning [from NCAA enforcement], it appears that the former staff member [Richardson] was implicated in a $40,000.00 transaction with the high school coach.”

An NCAA spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday, citing the association's policy regarding current, pending or potential investigations.

Alkins played for Christ the King, the famed New York basketball power in Queens, before finishing his high school career at Word of God Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina. Richardson’s conversation with the undercover agents revolves around a course at Bishop Ford High School in Brooklyn, which closed in 2014 when Alkins was 17 years old. The “high school coach” mentioned in Jackson’s email and by Richardson in the transcript is never identified.

Richardson said the coach told him, “I need $40,000 to get this [class] on his transcript. If he does not get this class, he's gonna be a partial qualifier. He's not gonna have 16 credits to graduate.” The NCAA requires completion of 16 core courses for immediate eligibility.

Richardson said he questioned the cost and resisted paying at first, trying alternate means to complete Alkins’ transcript. But he returned to the coach because, “He had the school seal, and the great thing about the seal that he had, the school, and Bishop Ford closed down in Brooklyn, so you can't investigate. … So, when the NCAA says I need to see the coursework and all — the school's closed.” Richardson declared that the coach’s plan to alter the transcript and get paid for it was “ingenious.”

Richardson added in the conversation that the coach told him he needed that much money, “Because it’s not just me doing it. I gotta take care of some people.” However, one of those people was not Alkins himself, according to Richardson.

“The high school coach again, it was ingenious,” Richardson said. “But when you bamboozle everyone and that kid didn't get any of the 40, that's the problem I have.”

Richardson was attempting to explain to the undercover FBI agents acting as “investors” in Dawkins’ company how complex recruiting situations can become. Richardson sums up the complications of recruiting this way, referencing how the burgeoning agency would have to manage its “return on investment.” Richardson said: “Each year you're gonna deal with a situation. Maybe not that extreme, but it gets extreme. So, each year you're trying to figure out, OK, this is what I had to do for Rawle.”

Richardson complained about Alkins’ cousin bringing his family to town and creating further complications. “You don't need anyone living there,” he said. “That means you don't trust us.”

Richardson said the “two grand” he paid monthly to Alkins’ cousin was to “make sure that [Alkins] works.” He detailed the method and structure of the payments. “So, now that's at two grand a month,” Richardson said. “So, Christian's like, ‘Book, are you serious?’ And I'm like, damn, I've let the cat out the bag, so now I'm trying to reel back and he's like no. He said, ‘Tell it to me,’ and I said, ‘OK, I give him two grand a month, he works.’ He said, ‘Is it like an allowance?’ I said, ‘No, what I usually do, I just try to stagger it.’ He works and you know, I'll give him $1,500 cash and then I'll come back and give him $500 this week to offset that.”

Richardson went on to explain to the undercover agents that similar scenarios pop up each year and that paying cash or using third parties gives Richardson protection from NCAA rules.

“If anything happens, it's their word against mine,” Richardson said. “And when it's cash, you know, I don't know what they're talking about. But his point to me was, each year there's a situation that you're going to deal with. Now, whether you wanna deal with it going [forward] — if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn't have done it.”

While this recording was never heard in court, other tapes were played last May in which Richardson and Dawkins discussed Alkins. That included one conversation in which Dawkins told Richardson that he did not need to use any of the $20,000 that Dawkins’ company was going to give him to pay Alkins because Miller was allegedly handling him. “You already know, Sean’s taking care of Rawle and them,” Dawkins said. “So it ain’t no expense to Rawle. So that’s easy.”

Nearly a year earlier, in August 2016, a Dawkins email viewed by Yahoo Sports that was sent to his colleagues at ASM Sports Agency laid out the influence Richardson had with Alkins’ family.

“Book at Arizona has the juice with the situation,” Dawkins wrote. “They are going to listen to him. Nobody else is involved besides Book, the kid and Rodney [Alkins’ cousin]. The mom has say, but I think she will depend on Rodney. He can get stuff done. … He is planning to move to Tucson after Sept. 11 [2016], so I assume Book is going to want to have a situation in place sooner than later. We can monitor closely.”

 U.S. vs. Christian Dawkins, Merl Code and James Gatto 

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