Meet Marty Blazer, the Pittsburgh-area financial adviser the FBI flipped to upend college basketball

NCAA-basketball
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

 

The Pittsburgh-area man at the center of the federal investigation involving NCAA assistant coaches and student-athletes being paid cash bribes to direct business to financial advisers spent months wearing secret wires to audio and video record meetings at restaurants, exchanged envelopes of cash in bathrooms and secretly recorded telephone calls with unsuspecting conspirators.

The scandal, which has stunned collegiate sports and led Wednesday to the unpaid suspension of renowned University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, has led to the arrests of 10 men who served as assistant NCAA basketball coaches, as well as sports agents and financial advisers.

The charges, contained in three separate criminal complaints, were announced Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Although those court documents outline extensively the involvement of Louis “Marty” Blazer, of Findlay, they do not name him as a defendant. Instead, he is listed only as a cooperating witness, “CW-1.”

Mr. Blazer, instead, was separately charged in a sealed criminal information, made public Monday, that names only him as a defendant — also in the Southern District of New York. He has already pleaded guilty there to the five counts against him, including securities fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and false statements.

According to the recently unsealed document, in addition to the charges involving student-athletes, Mr. Blazer also used his clients' money without authorization to invest in movies and music ventures. Then, when the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating, the U.S. Attorney's office said, he tried to cover it up.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 16. It is likely that Mr. Blazer will be given a significantly reduced sentence on his own charges based on his long-lasting cooperation in the NCAA investigation.

Martin Dietz, who is representing Mr. Blazer, said regarding the SEC case involving the failed movie investments, his client did not profit.

As for the announcement of charges made Tuesday, Mr. Dietz had no comment.

But it is in those criminal filings where the level of detail of Mr. Blazer’s vast involvement becomes clear: Under the FBI’s direction, for more than a year, he met with college basketball coaches, players and their mothers, offering them money to urge them to use him as their financial adviser when they went pro. He also brokered deals with a sports agent and a custom suit maker to steer more coaches and students to him.

According to the complaints, Mr. Blazer began cooperating with federal investigators in November 2014. From that time until this past summer, Mr. Blazer repeatedly met with several of the defendants, including four assistant coaches — Chuck Person of Auburn, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, Tony Bland of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State; as well as Christian Dawkins, a former NBA agent; Munish Sood, a New Jersey financial adviser and Rashan Michel, who headed a custom clothing company for athletes.

In the spring of 2015, the documents said, Mr. Blazer was introduced to Mr. Dawkins by Mr. Michel.

Mr. Blazer had learned from Mr. Michel that in the past, Mr. Dawkins had paid college coaches and student-athletes bribes. Once they met, Mr. Blazer inquired of Mr. Dawkins, if he knew any coaches who would be interested in steering players his way for business management and financial services.

Eventually, Mr. Dawkins suggested Mr. Evans, who at the time was coaching at the University of South Carolina.

Then, in December 2015, the complaint continues, Mr. Blazer asked Mr. Sood, whom he had known since at least 2012, if he would like to work together.

Over the next many months, the two recruited coaches that they could pay, and in return, the coaches would direct players to them for financial services.ff

According to the documents, Mr. Evans, who left South Carolina in the spring of 2016 to go to Oklahoma State, received $22,000 from the men.

Mr. Blazer paid Chuck Person, an associate head coach at Auburn who played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons, $91,500 over 10 months.

He also gave Rashan Michel, the suit maker, $49,000 in exchange for him finding Mr. Blazer additional coaches to work with.

The meetings often would occur at restaurants on or near the various college campuses, or at hotel rooms in New York City, Las Vegas and Miami.

The documents also spell out scenarios in which the coaches would siphon some of their own bribe money to players or their families — both at the high school and college level — sometimes to convince them to hire Mr. Blazer and Mr. Sood as their advisers, and sometimes as a recruitment tool to commit them to play ball at that particular college.

For example, on Dec. 12, 2016, according to one complaint, Mr. Blazer met with Auburn coach Chuck Person, Mr. Michel, and an Auburn player at a hotel room in Manhattan while the team was there for a game at Madison Square Garden.

During the meeting, Mr. Person introduced Mr. Blazer to the player and his mother, explained a little bit about his background and urged the player to trust him. Then he suggested Mr. Blazer could "figure out something to give [him] every month."

The coach urged the player not to tell anyone about the money — including his sisters and teammates -— and not to act differently because of it.

"'That's very important 'cause this is a violation... of rules, but this is how the NBA players get it done, they get early relationships, they form partnerships, they from trust,’” Mr. Person said, according to the complaint.

During the meeting, but outside the presence of the player, the complaint said, Mr. Blazer gave Mr. Person $15,000 in cash.

Six days later, Mr. Blazer met with the coach, the player and his mother again — at Mr. Person's house in Alabama. There, Mr. Blazer gave the player $1,000 in cash and Mr. Person told the player that he would be paid "a few" over the next four months. Investigators wrote that they believed that meant a few thousand dollars each month.

In the charges involving Mr. Evans, the criminal complaint said that Mr. Blazer was introduced to Mr. Evans, then an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina, by Mr. Dawkins, who at the time was working as an agent for a sports firm in New York City.

At the first March 3, 2016, meeting Mr. Dawkins said the good thing about working with assistant coaches like Mr. Evans is that "the head coach ... ain't willing to [take bribes] 'cause they're making too much money. And it's too risky,'" according to the complaint.

Over a series of phone calls and meetings over several months, the men agreed to work together, investigators said, and Mr. Evans told the men he wanted $2,000 per month to work with them.

At one point, Mr. Evans also requested a $300 pair of headphones for himself and another pair, later, for a player, that Mr. Blazer provided.

On April 4, 2016, Mr. Evans was hired as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, but agreed to continue steering clients to the men from there.

At a meeting in Miami on Aug. 4, 2016, Mr. Evans said, "'every guy I recruit and get is my personal kid ... All right... the ... 7'1" kid coming in next year, you guys going to get [him,]'" the complaint said.

Mr. Evans told Mr. Blazer and Mr. Sood there would be "no buffer" between them and the players at Oklahoma State, and that he would urge his athletes to use them for their finances.

At that meeting, Mr. Blazer gave Mr. Evans an envelope containing $1,000 in cash.

Mr. Dawkins previously was employed by ASM Sports, a professional sports marketing agency. But in May, he was fired from there for allegedly using an NBA player's credit card to pay for $42,000 in Uber expenses. After his termination, court filings show, Mr. Dawkins discussed and later formed a new agency with Mr. Sood and an undercover FBI agent. As part of the arrangement, they agreed to provide him with $200,000 in annual funding.

The undercover agent provided Mr. Dawkins with the first, cash payment of $25,000 on June 6 at a meeting on a boat docked off Manhattan, the complaint said. Mr. Blazer was present at that meeting.

Mr. Blazer, who operated Blazer Capital Management on the South Side — which has been shuttered for six months — has been in repeated financial and legal troubles over recent years.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil action against Mr. Blazer in May 2016, alleging that he took $2.4 million from five professional athletes to invest in two movie projects, Mafia the Movie and A Resurrection. Then, officials said, he tried to cover it up by creating false documents and moving money from other clients, as if it were a Ponzi scheme.

In August, a federal judge ordered Mr. Blazer to pay $1.8 million in the case, as well as a penalty of $150,000.

And in March 2011, according to various media accounts, professional football player Kevan Barlow alleged $4 million in damages, saying Mr. Blazer misappropriated or mismanaged his accounts from 2001 to 2009. An arbitrator awarded him $850,000 in May 2012.

Mr. Blazer has also been the subject of multiple civil court actions in Allegheny County. He is listed as a defendant in several loan default cases, including involvement with former University of Pittsburgh basketball star DeJuan Blair, and other former professional football players, including Gregory Little Jr., drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2011, and Anthony Allen, drafted by the Baltimore Ravens also in 2011.

According to court records, Mr. Blazer acted as a guarantor on loans taken out by the athletes from First Choice Bank, out of New Jersey. Mr. Sood’s corporate profile notes that he founded First Choice Bank in Lawrenceville, N.J., in 2007.

In Mr. Blair's case, he took out a loan on May 27, 2011, for $50,000, with Mr. Blazer signing as a guarantor.

As of January, 2014, no payments had been made, and the bank filed an action against both men. Default judgment was entered in January 2015.

Mr. Blazer was also listed as a defendant in a federal civil action in Florida involving Shawn Nelson, who defaulted on a lease for a 2009 Mercedes S-550 for more than $146,000. Again, Mr. Blazer was a guarantor on the loan.

Mr. Little, a former NFL wide receiver, declined to comment through his father, Gregory Little Sr. Phone calls and messages left for Mr. Allen and Mr. Nelson were not returned.

Staff Writer Andrew Goldstein contributed. Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com.

 

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