A former University of San Diego assistant basketball coach and two former players were among 10 people named in a federal indictment unsealed Monday in connection with an alleged sports-bribery ring that offered bribes to college basketball players to fix games.
Federal prosecutors in San Diego said the organizers conspired to bribe players to alter the outcome of games so the defendants could profit by betting on games in Las Vegas.
Two former USD players, including Brandon Johnson, were among those indicted.
The indictment accuses the group of conspiracy to commit sports bribery, running an illegal sports bookmaking operation and distributing marijuana.
According to the indictment, Johnson -- while he was the starting point guard for USD -- took a bribe to influence the result of a game in February 2010. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy would not be specific on which game was involved.
Also, according to the indictment, Johnson -- after he was gone from USD in January 2011 -- solicited an individual to affect the outcome of USD basketball games.
"Brandon Johnson, USD starting point guard from the 2009 to 2010 season and the school's all-time leader in points scored and assists, was intricately involved in both the illegal gambling business and in the sports bribery scheme," said Duffy.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter said the investigation, dubbed "Operation Hookshot," began more than a year ago and started out as a drug probe.
Duffy said it began as a marijuana investigation.
"They used money that was raised to purchase and transport marijuana. They used money to pay for the betting service they were using. They used the money to make bribes. They used money to bet on games," she said.
Slotter said he didn't know how many basketball games were affected by the illegal bookmaking activity and said there were many questions that still had to be answered.
"What was the extent of the activity? How many games are we talking about? Who? What opponents?" he said.
Authorities said USD is cooperating in the investigation.
"This is not an indictment on an outstanding academic institution
rather a few individuals who chose to do the wrong thing," Slotter said. "This is not an indictment against USD."
Of the 10 defendants named in the indictment, eight -- including Johnson -- have been arrested, Duffy said.
She alleged that the three lead defendants in the case -- San Diego residents Steve Warda Goria, Paul Joseph Thweni and Richard Garmo -- orchestrated multiple schemes, including the sports bribery scheme involving Johnson, former USD Assistant Coach Thaddeus Brown and former USD player Brandon Dowdy, who played for the school during the 2006-2007 season and later for UC Riverside.
Brown coached at USD the same year Dowdy played there.
The indictment alleges that in February 2011, Brown and Dowdy solicited an individual to affect the outcome of a college basketball game at UCR.
Goria was taken into custody following a Monday morning SWAT standoff in Serra Mesa. (Click here
for more on the standoff.)
Johnson, 24, was arrested Saturday in Texas and was expected to be arraigned Monday.
Eight others were expected to make their first appearance in San Diego federal court on Tuesday, Duffy said.
In response to the indictment, the NCAA released this statement, which reads in part:
The NCAA is extremely concerned regarding the point-shaving allegations involving two former men's basketball student-athletes and a former assistant coach.These allegations are precisely why the NCAA continues to take such a strong stance against any sports wagering activities. We take any allegation of point shaving very seriously as it is a crime that threatens two core NCAA principles health and safety of student-athletes and the integrity of the game. We commend the FBI and all of law enforcement for its continued diligence in this area and appreciate their effort to help combat point shaving. The NCAA will defer any action until the process has concluded with the FBI and U.S. attorney.
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