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FBI agent who spearheaded college basketball corruption case could unravel the whole damn thing

Misappropriated funds could weaken the FBI’s case in the mission to clean up college basketball.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Michigan vs Louisville Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

The FBI’s probe into illegal payments and corruption in college basketball could all be unraveled by one man — the lead agent in charge of the investigation. A Sports Illustrated report published Wednesday documents how the unnamed investigator had to be removed from the case as it unfolded after being “accused of misappropriating investigative funds” — namely, spending FBI money on gambling and other luxuries for himself.

Court documents show the lead agent, who worked much of the case undercover as a wealthy but corrupt influencer looking to bankroll Christian Dawkins’ fledgling NBA agent career through illegal deals, was pulled from the investigation midway through the process as accusations about his spending came to light. The FBI employee, known publicly only by his investigative persona “Jeff DeAngelo,” is alleged to have taken money earmarked for the government’s sting operation and spent it for personal use, covering everything from unapproved food and beverages to his own wagers while in Las Vegas.

From the Sports Illustrated report by Jake Fischer and Jon Wertheim:

But strangest of all: Under the so-called Brady rule, prosecutors are required to disclose to the defense materially exculpatory evidence—that is, evidence favorable to the accused. In this case, when defense lawyers for some of the accused parties received the government’s Brady disclosures, the document contained reference to the man who went by Jeff DeAngelo. Referring to the agent by his true name, the government conceded that the operation’s central figure stood accused of misappropriating investigative funds earmarked for the operation and spending the money on gambling, food and beverages during the probe. Reverse engineering the dates, this alleged misconduct occurred during the July 2017 trip to Las Vegas. Later, “DeAngelo” had not flown to visit his ill mother. The undercover agent had actually been removed from the case due to accusations about his own allegedly illegal activity.

It could be a significant blow to the FBI’s case. Attorneys for James Gatto, Adidas’s head of global marketing for basketball who was also implicated and indicted in the investigation, have requested further documentation of the inquest into “DeAngelo’s” misdeeds. Though those documents are still pending, their release could paint the government’s work in a whole new light. The motion also implicated the man at the top of the investigation may not be the only player to take part in this alleged corruption.

Schachter [Gatto’s counsel] also asserted, “Your honor, the government disclosed to us that the undercover agents and the case agents in this case are under criminal investigation for misusing government funds.” His use of the plural—implying that multiple agents are being investigated—was not challenged by either the judge or the prosecution.

That’s a big deal. Evidence of impropriety would effectively shatter the FBI’s credibility in the case. It calls the character of the investigators into question and raises doubts whether the operation was handled fairly and whether the agents in charge are trustworthy.

We’ve already seen this investigation get Rick Pitino fired at Louisville and result in several suspensions for high-profile players at schools like Auburn and USC. But the whole thing may not result in any major criminal convictions, all thanks to potential corruption within the FBI’s own ranks.