Former Southern California assistant basketball coach Tony Bland, left, arrives at federal court in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. Bland is expected to plead guilty in a criminal case in which prosecutors said bribes were paid to steer top athletes to certain schools. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Ex-USC coach Tony Bland pleads guilty in corruption case

January 02, 2019 - 12:53 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Former University of Southern California assistant basketball coach Tony Bland pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit bribery, admitting to accepting $4,100 in cash to steer players at the school to certain financial advisers and business managers.

Bland's plea in Manhattan federal court makes it likely he'll spend little or no time in prison after he is sentenced April 2.

"On July 29, 2017, I met with others in Las Vegas, Nevada, to discuss my participation in the scheme and received a payment of $4,100," he told U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos.

He was among four assistant coaches charged in the September 2017 crackdown on college basketball recruiting corruption. Three former coaches still face trial.

Prosecutors say the coaches teamed up with a top Adidas executive and others to trade hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to influence star athletes' choice of schools, shoe sponsors, agents and even tailors.

Bland, 38, had been preparing for an April trial before working out his plea deal last month with prosecutors. In the deal, solidified in a six-page agreement, Bland agreed not to appeal any sentence that results in a prison sentence of six months or less.

Outside the courtroom, a relaxed and good-natured Bland declined to comment except to say: "Happy New Year" and shake the hand of a reporter.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman called it a "very tragic sad ending for somebody who's given so much to so many people."

"It's a tragic, tragic day," he said.

Lichtman said he could not fault prosecutors for trying to force change to college basketball, which he said had been relying too long on a "very broken, antiquated system."

"If the NCAA is unwilling to police themselves, ... somebody's got to do it," he said.

"This is a long and winding road that will ultimately lead to construction of new rules," Lichtman said.

As for his client, he said Bland was "looking to get on with his life" after a prosecution that "drives a stake into the heart of his career."

He would not speculate as to whether Bland, who was on a trajectory to become a head coach someday, could ever coach again.

"He came from nothing and he rose to the pinnacle of his profession," the lawyer said.

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