Sports Law Blog
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Monday, January 31, 2005
RICO and NCAA Bribes: Skip at the Sports Economist points out a unique case arising in a federal district court in Memphis. The case, explained in this article, involves a standout high school football player, his high school coach, the coach's assistant and a University of Alabama booster named Logan Young. The coach, Lynn Lang, claims that boosters from several top football schools, including Young from Alabama, offered him bribes if he would steer his star defensive lineman to that school. Lang accepted nearly $150,000 from Young and the player ended up at Alabama.
Yes, this is a violation of about a dozen NCAA recruiting rules, but why is Young being criminally charged? And why under RICO? Skip has asked us to try and shed some light on this subject. RICO is very complicated and I don't profess to be an expert, but here is what I do know.
The player involved in this case attended a public high school. When Young bribed the coach, he was bribing a state employee -- a government official. This violates a number of state laws. But the federal government got the case because Young was charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, 18 USC 1961-1968.
Originally targeted at the mafia, RICO (read more from Wikipedia) has increasingly been used as a tool of federal prosecutors to try alleged criminals in federal courts. To fall under RICO, an individual or group must commit two or more of a certain type of crime (some state, some federal), including embezzlement, extortion and bribery. Without RICO, Young would most likely have been charged with violating a state law against bribing government officials. However, the government wanted to sentence Young under the harsher federal penalties, and thus, it brought the RICO charges.
The exact charge levied against Young is that he violated 18 USC 1952, which makes it a federal offense to "use the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce" to commit racketeering. I do not know the exact evidence used by the government, but it could include mailing Lang documents or using his cell phone (an instrument of interstate commerce) to call Lang in order to induce him to accept the money. The government has also charged Young with hiding proof of the financial transactions, in violation of 31 USC 5324.
This seems like a lot of trouble for a college booster that paid off a recruit. Someone seems to want to make a statement about the corruption in college athletics (especially basketball and football) and so they have chosen to make an example out of Young. If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison and a $900,000 fine.
Will he be convicted? Reporters at the trial seem to think the evidence is shaky: the main witness is Lang, who accepted a plea bargain after agreeing to testify and much of the records the government has do not create an airtight case. Many think there is more than enough reasonable doubt for Young to escape.
The trial is scheduled to end tomorrow and the jury will begin to deliberate. It will be interesting to see if those men and women believe that this man, while obviously a malfeasant in the sports world, should be convicted and sent to a federal prison for this act.