Court filings in a federal criminal case involving college basketball corruption link former NC State coach Mark Gottfried to being the first head coach directly connected to impermissible payments to players, sources told ESPN.
According to a disclosure from federal prosecutors, former NC State assistant coach Orlando Early’s attorney said his client disclosed that Gottfried on two occasions gave him envelopes — containing what Early believed was cash — to deliver to star guard Dennis Smith Jr.‘s trainer to ensure he signed with the Wolfpack in 2015.
Smith’s trainer, Shawn Farmer, was supposed to deliver the envelopes to Dennis Smith Sr., the father of the five-star recruit, who is now a point guard with the New York Knicks.
According to sources, the allegations concerning Gottfried were included in a sentencing memorandum filed Feb. 12 on behalf of former Adidas executive James Gatto, who was sentenced to nine months in federal prison Tuesday.
The information concerning Gottfried, who is now coaching at Cal State Northridge, is redacted in the sentencing memo that is publicly available.
The sources told ESPN that federal prosecutors initially disclosed the statement from Early’s attorney before an October federal criminal trial in New York, in which Gatto and two other men were convicted of conspiring to funnel money from Adidas to the families of high-profile recruits to steer them to Adidas-sponsored programs, including Kansas, Louisville and NC State.
The allegations concerning Gottfried weren’t introduced into evidence during the criminal trial.
Scott Tompsett, Gottfried’s attorney, disputed the allegations in the disclosure.
“The statement being reported on is false and conflicts with the sworn testimony of the government’s lead witness in the trial last fall,” Tompsett said in a statement provided to ESPN. “Specifically, at trial, T.J. Gassnola testified, under penalty of perjury, that he did not discuss the payment to Dennis Smith with anyone at N.C. State other than one assistant coach. Thus, the statement being reported on as it refers to Mr. Gottfried is not corroborated by a single shred of evidence and it conflicts with the sworn testimony of the government’s lead witness at the trial last fall.”
According to the disclosure, Early, who was Gottfried’s top recruiter at NC State from 2011 to 2017, became aware of a request for money from Smith’s family to secure his commitment to the Wolfpack.
“Early believes the number was in the ballpark of $100,000 or more,” the disclosure said.
“Thereafter, on two occasions, Gottfried handed Early envelopes, which Early understood to contain cash,” the disclosure continues. “Early in turn delivered the envelopes to Farmer for subsequent delivery to Dennis Smith Sr., the father of Smith Jr.”
At some point, according to the disclosure, Gottfried “complained to Early about having to provide money out of his own pocket to the Smith family” and “stated, in substance, that he intended to ask Adidas for help.”
Early, a college scout for the Memphis Grizzlies, did not respond to a message on his cellphone.
Former Adidas consultant Gassnola testified during the October trial that he made two payments to people close to Smith, who spent one-and-a-half seasons at NC State before being a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
The first payment, of an unspecified amount, came during Smith’s junior year of high school after Andy Miller, who ran the ASM Sports agency, informed Gassnola that Smith wanted to leave the Adidas grassroots circuit.
The second payment came in the fall of 2015, after Early reached out to Gassnola to say there were issues surrounding Smith, who had committed earlier in the fall.
“He was having issues with keeping that situation together,” Gassnola told the jury.
Gassnola testified he gave $40,000 in cash to Early in November 2015. Early told Gassnola he was going to give the money to Farmer. Gassnola said Adidas reimbursed him the money.
After the $40,000 payment from Gassnola, according to the disclosure, Early removed himself from the situation.
“Gottfried told Early, in substance, that he would take care of the payments to the Smith family himself,” the disclosure said.
During his testimony at the trial, Gassnola was asked, “Aside from Mr. Early, did you discuss your plan to pay money to the family of Dennis Smith with anyone else at North Carolina State University?”
“I did not,” Gassnola answered.
NC State senior associate athletic director Fred Demarest told ESPN on Friday that the university was unaware of the allegations concerning Gottfried.
“If such information exists, it has not been shared with the university,” Demarest said.
Gottfried, a former ESPN analyst, was fired by NC State after six seasons. He had a 123-86 overall record and 48-58 ACC record at NC State.
Cal State Northridge hired Gottfried as its coach on March 12, 2018. The Matadors are 13-18 (7-8 Big West) going into Saturday night’s regular-season finale at UC Irvine.
During his introductory news conference at Cal State Northridge, Gottfried was asked about NC State receiving a federal grand jury subpoena for information about Early and Smith’s recruitment.
“I don’t foresee any red flags that I’m aware of,” Gottfried said at the time. “It’s a situation that’s much bigger than all of us. It has affected a lot of programs. I’m confident that should be behind us pretty quickly.”
Four days after the Matadors hired Gottfried, NC State officials released a grand jury subpoena they received from the Southern District of New York. The subpoena demanded communication records between school officials and their former coaching staff and Smith and his representatives.
Cal State Northridge officials later released a statement, which read: “Compliance was an important issue for us in the search for our next men’s basketball coach. The great thing about bringing Mark Gottfried to CSUN is that we had a 20-year track record to review. Coach Gottfried has an excellent compliance record and understands how to build winners the right way. We did our own due diligence and, as both Coach Gottfried and officials at North Carolina State have said, there are no red flags whatsoever.”
Smith was the ACC Freshman of the Year at NC State in 2016-17. He averaged 18.1 points, the highest scoring average by a Wolfpack freshman. Smith was the ninth pick of the 2017 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks and was traded to the Knicks on Jan. 31.
Yahoo Sports previously reported that Smith was among several current and former players who allegedly received money or other impermissible benefits from ASM Sports. Smith reportedly received a loan of $73,500 from Stephen Pina, who was part of the same sports agency as Miller, and Christian Dawkins, who was sentenced to six months in federal prison Tuesday for his role in the Adidas pay-for-play schemes.
Information from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello was used in this report.