Report: De Sousa, Preston alleged payments detailed Thursday

Kansas University's Billy Preston challenges for the ball during a basketball match between Kansas University and an Italian selection of players, in Seregno, near Milan, Italy, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
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(WIBW/AP) -- A government witness at the FBI's college basketball corruption trial testified Thursday that he made secret payments to the inner circles of top college basketball prospects in order to sway them to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools or to sign with Adidas upon entering the NBA.

Testifying in federal court in Manhattan, self-described recruitment facilitator Thomas "T.J." Gassnola continued to drop some notable names in basketball during his second day on the witness stand, including former KU recruit Billy Preston and current KU forward Silvio De Sousa.

Business manager Christian Dawkins, former amateur coach Merl Code and former Adidas executive James Gatto have pleaded not guilty to defrauding various colleges by concealing the use of under-the-table payments of up to $100,000 from Adidas in exchange for commitments to programs that were seen as a path to big NBA paydays. Their lawyers haven't disputed payments were arranged in violation of NCAA rules, but they argue the schools never suffered any harm.

Gassnola, 46, is a former Adidas consultant who has pleaded guilty.

He said that while working under the direction of Gatto, he met with the mother of Preston in a hotel room in 2016 to bring him to Kansas for $90,000, warning her off of other recruiters who were less discrete about the money.

"If the payments weren't well concealed," he explained to the jury, "Kansas would lose their eligibility, people would lose jobs, and Kansas could have sanctions laid on them from the NCAA."

Preston ended up leaving Kansas without playing a game for the Jayhawks. He's now now under contract with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers in a developmental league.

In November of 2017, Kansas head coach Bill Self told the media in a press release that Preston was involved in a single-vehicle incident on KU's campus and was suspended for the Jayhawks' next game against Kentucky.

According to
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, the car mentioned in the release was a Dodge Charger, which sparked concern within the KU compliance office.

During the trial, text messages were shown that revealed Preston's mother Nicole Player bragged about buying the car for her son, but according to statements by defense attorney Mike Schachter, the car was registered with Player's recently deceased grandmother in Florida.

Schachter later said that the University of Kansas was satisfied with that.

According to Wetzel, in the process of looking into the car, Kansas discovered a wire transfer to Player that came from a man named TJ Gassnola--the government's witness.

Gassnola then revealed giving Player $89,000 over the course of nearly a year, "including a $30,000 cash payout in a New York hotel room and another $20,000 brick delivered while in Las Vegas," according to Wetzel.

According to Wetzel's article, Player then texted Gassnola to tell him she had told Kansas officials that they had been in an "intimate" relationship, hoping to ward off any further concern.

Player had a live-in partner, Timicha Kirby, according to Wetzel's article, who happened to be a woman.

Gassnola later testified that there was a $15,000 payment to Deandre Ayton, who chose Arizona instead of Adidas-sponsored KU.

Schachter then asked Gassnola if he felt like he had let Self down, and Gassnola replied, "I did."

Gassnola claimed he met regularly with college coaches including Self, whom he said he regularly discussed recruiting targets with but never directly told anything about his payments.

At the same time, Wetzel reports Gassnola claimed he never spoke to coaches about the payouts, but that they all "begged for his help."

He also claimed $2,500 was sent to the guardian of De Sousa.

According to Wetzel's article, there could have been another $20,000 to De Sousa's guardian because they had allegedly taken $60,000 from a booster for Maryland and "needed to pay back some money in order to sign with Kansas."

Gassnola denied sending the amount because he believed the Maryland booster wouldn't rescind the bribe.

De Sousa remains on KU's roster, and according to Self, is expected to play this season.

Preston is listed in a two-way contract with the Canton Charge of the NBA G League, a team associated with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The trial resumes Monday.