Atlanta businessman spared prison in college hoops scandal

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NEW YORK (AP) — An Atlanta businessman and former NBA referee was spared prison time Thursday after pleading guilty in a college basketball scandal that paid bribes to steer top athletes to certain schools and money managers.

Rashan Michel wiped his eyes when U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska in New York announced prison would be excessive punishment, even for what she described as a serious crime. She also ordered him to forfeit $24,000, the amount he was paid in the scheme.

The sentencing came in a case that exposed how fledgling money managers and representatives of sports apparel companies paid bribes to college coaches and families of top recruits to steer youngsters toward favored schools and handlers so they could cash in when the players reached the NBA.

Michel was a full-time NBA referee from 1997 to 2001 and a part-time college referee from 2006 to 2017. He also founded and operated a clothing store that catered to pro athletes and traveled the country to meet his clients.

His lawyer, Jonathan Bach, told the judge that Michel was trying to rebuild his business of selling suits, though he was looking for a new consumer base outside of professional basketball players.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aline Flodr told the judge that Michel played a pivotal role in the college basketball scandal when he unwittingly arranged for a government cooperator posing as a money manager to meet with then-Auburn University assistant basketball coach and NBA star Chuck Person.

Person, who owed Michel money at the time, was sentenced by Judge Preska in July to 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a bribery conspiracy charge. The judge cited the extensive charitable work carried out by Person, who played 13 years in the NBA.

Flodr told Preska that the prosecution "should send a clear message that corruption in college athletics ... is unacceptable and will carry significant consequences."

Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of over a year in prison for Michel.

Given a chance to speak before his sentence was announced, Michel said he wanted "to apologize to the court and to Chuck Person."

Prosecutors said he told a law enforcement informant he knew other college basketball coaches who would be willing to accept bribes to influence athletes.

Besides Person, three other assistant college basketball coaches pleaded guilty, admitted accepting bribes and lost their jobs. Former University of Southern California assistant coach Tony Bland was sentenced to 100 hours of community service in June.

Lamont Evans, who coached at Oklahoma State and the University of South Carolina, was sentenced in June to three months in prison while Emanuel "Book" Richardson, formerly coaching at the University of Arizona, was sentenced the same month to three months in prison.

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