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March Madness: Ex-NBA star guilty in advisor bribery scheme

A former NBA star and college men’s basketball coach admitted to taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes from advisors looking to form business relationships with talented student-athletes on pace to land lucrative professional contracts.

Chuck Person pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in a federal court in Manhattan. As part of the deal, Person agreed to forfeit $91,500 he received from advisors, including at least one registered financial advisor.

The guilty plea came just days before the start of the highly anticipated NCAA Division I college basketball tournament, commonly known as March Madness. Auburn, where Person played college basketball and was an assistant coach, took on New Mexico State in the first round.

The charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison.

Person, known as "The Rifleman" for his shooting skills, played in the NBA for 13 years and was the 1987 NBA Rookie of the Year.

Joon Kim College basketball fraud IAG 032119
Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a news conference in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Top-tier college basketball programs were thrown into turmoil Tuesday as federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against 10 coaches, managers, financial advisers and representatives of sportswear companies including Adidas AG, accusing them of making illicit payments to cash in on the vast riches generated at the sport's highest levels. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

“As he has now admitted, Chuck Person abused his position as a coach and mentor to student-athletes in exchange for personal gain,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement. “In taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes, Person not only placed personal financial gain above his obligations to his employer and the student-athletes he coached, but he broke the law.”

Person's lead attorney Theresa Trzaskoma did not return multiple requests for comment.

The explosive charges were announced in 2017 when the Princeton, New Jersey-based registered broker, Munish Sood, was arrested with nine other individuals, including four NCAA Division I coaches. Sood pleaded guilty in connection with his participation in the scheme last year.

Person was ensnared in the federal investigation and ultimately implicated by a cooperating witness, reported to be the former advisor Louis Martin Blazer III, who was barred from the financial advisory industry by the SEC. Blazer, a Pittsburgh-based money manager with Blazer Capital Management, signed a plea agreement admitting guilt to five federal crimes, including securities fraud, wire fraud, identity theft and making false statements.

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Over the course of the scheme, Person arranged multiple meetings between Blazer and Auburn players or their family members, where the former coach touted Blazer’s track record as a financial advisor.

One Auburn player was even told to keep the relationships quiet: “most important part is that you . . . don’t say nothing to anybody . . . don’t share with your sisters, don’t share with any of the teammates, 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, and they form partnerships.”

Person later told the player that Blazer would supply him with a separate cell phone so they could communicate.

Sood was CEO and chief investment officer of Princeton Advisory Group, which was registered with Cross Point Capital at the time, per FINRA BrokerCheck records. The previously registered broker has nine pending criminal charges on record.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 9.

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