Feds' case against college hoops corruption hits 'unusual' twist

There are new developments in Chuck Person’s federal basketball case. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

The federal government filed a new, superseding indictment Thursday against former Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person and Atlanta clothier Rashan Michel, one of three ongoing cases in the probe of college basketball. There are no bombshells in the new document, which replaces one filed in late 2017, but there are some significant — and unusual — changes.

Generally speaking, the indictment from the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York narrows the case — which accuses Person and Michel of taking bribes in order to steer Auburn players to a financial adviser once they turn professional — rather than expanding it. There are no new charges, and no new people or entities named.

“It doesn’t happen every day,” said legal expert Stephen L. Hill, a partner in the Kansas City branch of the global firm, Dentons. “But good lawyers, as the case develops, try to move their case in the direction the facts and law takes them. This is what you’d expect with good lawyering on both sides of the case.”

However, a lawyer familiar with the case who wished to remain anonymous saw the new indictment differently.

“It’s highly unusual in a federal case to alter legal theories months after initial charges were filed,” the attorney said. “Basically, what they’re doing is arresting first and investigating later.”

The most fundamental change in the case is that a wire fraud charge against Michel was dropped — one of six charges the two men were facing. That charge was changed from wire-fraud conspiracy, implicating both men, to a wire fraud charge against Person. The other five charges stand against Michel, and all six stand against Person.

Although every charge stands against Person, the feds’ legal argument was altered as it relates to the former NBA star and Auburn alum. Multiple new paragraphs were inserted into the superseding indictment detailing Person’s employment contract with Auburn, specifically noting the clauses requiring him to comply with NCAA rules and to self-report any violations of those rules. The complaint also alleges that Person falsely signed an employee disclosure form with Auburn by stating that he had reported any potential NCAA violations or knowledge of NCAA violations to school officials.

“In response to the briefing, it appears the government has completely abandoned the wire fraud charge against Rashan Michel,” said Michel’s New York-based attorney, Jonathan Bach. “Unlike other cases, where the government used a superseding indictment to add defendants or new charges, here the government has taken away a significant charge against Mr. Michel.”

In another superseding indictment filed earlier this spring in the probe, in the case against former Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code and aspiring agent Christian Dawkins, the list of implicated individuals and entities expanded. Most notably, Kansas and North Carolina State were mentioned in that federal complaint. The feds alleged that Adidas execs arranged payments through AAU coach T.J. Gassnola to prospect Silvio De Sousa in exchange for his commitment to Kansas, and conspired with an unnamed North Carolina State coach to funnel money to prospect Dennis Smith Jr. in exchange for committing to the Wolfpack.

In the Person/Michel case, the government’s new indictment “took a step backward,” in the view of another lawyer familiar with the proceedings. With the feds’ legal argument altered and clarified, and one charge dropped, the case will move forward toward its current 2019 trial date.

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