Sidebars from Monday’s federal college basketball corruption trial shed more light on why the defense claimed during closing arguments that Kansas coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend knew about payments that Adidas employees were making to players.
The Star discovered through a deeper examination of court transcripts that Adidas executive Jim Gatto’s attorney, Michael Schachter — during sidebar sessions that were not heard by the gallery or jury — spoke about additional interactions between Townsend and Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola. In doing this, Schachter was attempting to convince Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to allow additional texts and phone conversations into evidence.
In some of those cases, Kaplan denied the request.
A main goal of the defense was trying to prove that the government’s witness, Gassnola, lied in federal court. Gassnola testified that he had given $2,500 to Fenny Falmagne, the legal guardian of then-recruit and current KU sophomore Silvio De Sousa. He also said he originally told Falmagne he would give him a $20,000 payment to help him pay back $60,000 he’d received previously from a Maryland booster so that De Sousa could attend KU. Gassnola, though, said he never followed through on that promise and also repeatedly stated he attempted to keep all payments he made concealed from KU’s coaching staff.
Schachter, while speaking with the judge, said the defense had a wiretapped Aug. 31 phone call between Gassnola and former Adidas employee Merl Code where Gassnola says, “I have been going around dropping bags to that idiot Fenny in order to get Kansas to re-sign with Adidas.” Schachter later stated that Gassnola, in the same conversation, said, “I am dropping $20 or $30,000 bag ... “
The defense also wanted to try to prove KU’s coaches had knowledge that Gassnola was making payments. Schachter spoke to Kaplan about text messages between Gassnola and Self from Aug. 9, 2017, when the two are discussing Falmagne before the topic changes to KU reworking a contract extension with Adidas:
Gassnola, 9:33 p.m.: I talked with Fennie
Self, 9:34 p.m.: We good?
Gassnola, 9:34 p.m.: Always. That’s was light work.
Ball is in his court now
Self, 9:34 p.m.: Spoke to Sean. All good.
Gassnola, 9:35 p.m.: Will it be done by Tuesday Deadline ?
Self, 9:36 p.m.: From what I was told yes
Gassnola, 9:36 p.m.: Great. Thank u boss
In the sidebar, prosecution attorney Eli Mark tells the judge that Self is speaking about KU deputy athletic director Sean Lester. KU announced a planned 12-year contract extension with Adidas the next month.
“Coach Self responds to this information about Fenny by linking it to Kansas re-singing the sponsorship agreement with Adidas,” Schachter said to Kaplan. “ ... ‘Will it be done by Tuesday deadline?’ is really the point of this, is that Mr. Gassnola in his mind is linking this.”
The defense also tried — but failed — to present as evidence additional communication between Townsend and Gassnola.
Schachter offered an exhibit of a text message between Falmagne and Jon Lasko, a member of the board of directors for De Sousa’s AAU team, the Florida Vipers.
“This is from Lasko to Fenny,” Schachter said, reading the text to Kaplan. “‘Fenny, I am in Indiana and Coach Ostrom asked me for an update. They are super willing to do what it takes to recruit Silvio. Is that something of interest for us?’”
Tom Ostrom, the associate head coach at Indiana, is in his second season with the Hoosiers.
Schachter said Falmagne forwarded the text message to Townsend, then texted, “Coach, that’s my boss. Still pushing the issue, Coach.”
“And then Coach Townsend — Mr. Gassnola asks him to explain, and Mr. Coach Townsend says, ‘He needs to get out from under this guy. Doesn’t mean anything. I was sending you what he sent me,’” Schachter told Kaplan.
Schachter argued to Kaplan that the language Townsend used was the same that Gassnola later repeated to Gatto during a Sept. 11, 2017 wiretapped call that was entered into evidence. In that instance, Gassnola also referenced getting Falmagne out from under an agreement.
“(Gassnola) hears those words — maybe he also heard it from Fenny,” Schachter said. “But our point is he heard those words from Coach Townsend.”
During the sidebar discussion, Schachter further explained why he believed the evidence was necessary.
“I am trying to demonstrate to the jury that (Gassnola) did not conceal this from the University of Kansas coaching staff,” Schachter said. “We submit that these documents show that he paid this money to Fenny at the direction, at the request, and in coordination with the University of Kansas.”
Kaplan allowed many of the text messages between Gassnola and KU’s coaches into evidence, but only on a limited basis.
“They are received only for the limited purpose of shedding light on the testimony of the witness,” Kaplan told jurors. “And just so the jury perhaps understands his little point of the law of evidence, the statements are not received for the truth because Coach Townsend is not here to testify they’re true, and the government has no ability to cross-examine him.”
Schachter, also in a sidebar, offered his understanding of a text exchange between Gassnola and Townsend from Aug. 26, 2017:
Townsend, 11:06 p.m.: Coach been on the phone with Angola
We are good to go
We will commit tomorrow
Townsend, 11:07 p.m.: From fenny
Gassnola, 11:07 p.m.: Great
Gassnola, 11:07 p.m.: I’ll follow up tomorrow
Townsend, 11:07 p.m.: Thank you
Schachter stated that the defense believed “Angola” was code for “De Sousa,” as that is his home country.
“Then Mr. Gassnola says, ‘I’ll follow up tomorrow,’” Schachter told Kaplan. “That ‘following up tomorrow,’ as we will continue to establish, is him actually meeting with Fenny in Florida and dropping the bag, or paying the $20,000 which he denies making. And there are further communications with Coach Townsend about that.”
Schachter was forceful in his closing statement to jurors Thursday, saying KU’s coaches were aware of payments made to players.
“Kansas’ head coach knew of and asked for a payment to be made to Silvio De Sousa’s handler,” Schachter said. “Coach Self and Coach Townsend asked for Adidas’ help in making this payment to Fenny.”
Self, when asked at last week’s KU basketball media day for comment about the federal trial, said: “No I don’t have any response. I can’t talk about that. I’m not meaning to be opaque about this at all. I just feel like … our stance is still the same. We’ll comment when the time is appropriate. The appropriate time is when this is done and that’ll certainly be the case. I’m not going to make comments day to day on what has been said because we’ll know obviously in the next couple weeks what actually this is all about.”
KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony has said KU Athletics would continue to defer all comment about the federal trial to KU director of strategic communications Joe Monaco. When contacted this week, Monaco referred to a previous KU statement: “It is not appropriate for the university to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing. As we have said all along, the prosecution has not suggested any wrongdoing by the university or its coaches. We will continue to cooperate as requested throughout the trial.”
The jury will start deliberations Monday.