Filing Mistake Could Cost Government in NCAA Corruption/Bribery Case

By Joseph M. Hanna

13th February 2018

On February 9, 2018, defendants in the NCAA corruption and bribery case filed a motion to suppress key government evidence. The motion outlines several procedural breaches, the most important is the claim of “a failure to identify the authorizing justice official” in paperwork to obtain a warrant for a wiretap. On April 7, 2017, a court issued an order permitting the federal government to wiretap Munish Sood’s cellphone for thirty days. The goal of the wiretap was to target communications between Mr. Sood and Christian Dawkins, a defendant in the case. However, the wiretap authorization application failed to comply with the statutory requirements of the Federal Wiretap Act because it did not identify the Department of Justice Official who authorized the request. Instead, the order contained a bracketed placeholder, stating only that the government’s application was “authorized by [FILL IN], Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.” The motion also goes on to claim that the warrant lacked probable cause and was overboard.

The case involves sports business manager Dawkins, Adidas executive Jim Gatto, and Adidas contractor Merl Code. As we have previously covered, the claim was that Gatto, Code, and Dawkins facilitated six-figure payments to basketball players’ families in exchange for promises that the players would enroll in Adidas sponsored NCAA Division I schools and later would hire Dawkins. The government target Sood in order to track his communications with Mr. Dawkins, because Dawkins connected Sood with high-profile players. Sood was arrested but was not brought into the case because it is widely believed he is cooperating with the government.

According to the motion, existing case law suggests that “a wiretap order is insufficient on its face where it fails to identify the Justice Department Official who approved the underlying application.” If the court grants the motion, the evidence obtained from the wiretap would be consequently inadmissible. In addition, evidence obtained from Sood’s wiretap was sued to get approval for additional wiretaps. If Sood’s wiretap is ruled inadmissible, then the subsequent wiretaps will also be deemed inadmissible. This small error could potential lead to a hole in the government’s case. This procedural error is not the only embarrassing mishap the government has suffered on this case. On February 8, 2018, it was reported that one of the undercover FBI agents on the case was under investigation for “misappropriating government money on gambling, food, and beverages.”

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About the Author

Joseph M. Hanna

Joseph M. Hanna

Joseph Hanna is a partner of Goldberg Segalla and concentrates his practice in commercial litigation with a focus on sports and entertainment law and retail, hospitality, and development litigation. Joe represents sports franchises, professional athletes, and movie studios with various issues related to licensing, contracts, and day-to-day management. He serves as Chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Sports and Entertainment Law Practice Group and editor of the firm’s Sports and Entertainment Law Insider blog. In addition, Joe is the Chair of Goldberg Segalla's Diversity Task Force. He possesses an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell.
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