In reply to NC State, NCAA lays out evidence of $40,000 payment

Attorneys representing NC State don't deny that an assistant coach received $40,000 from an Adidas consultant in November 2015. However, they don't believe there is evidence that former star player Dennis Smith Jr.'s father ever received the money, as the NCAA alleged in a notice of allegations last year.

The NCAA enforcement staff believes there is enough credible and circumstantial evidence for the Committee on Infractions to conclude that former Wolfpack assistant Orlando Early delivered $40,000 from Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola to trainer Shawn Farmer, who was supposed to deliver the money to Dennis Smith Sr.

In a 34-page reply to NC State on Monday, the NCAA enforcement staff laid out its case, with detailed evidence and testimony from an October 2018 federal criminal trial related to college basketball corruption, as well as telephone records, bank records and interviews with current and former Wolfpack coaches and officials.

NC State officials on Monday released a copy of the NCAA's reply to ESPN.

The NCAA has alleged two Level I violations (the most serious) against the Wolfpack, including a failure to monitor charge against former Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried, who has since been hired at Cal State Northridge. The most serious allegation is that Gassnola helped facilitate the $40,000 payment from Adidas to ensure that Smith Jr. signed with NC State.

"We have received the NCAA's reply to Coach Gottfried's and N.C. State's responses to the Notice of Allegations, and we look forward to presenting our positions at the upcoming hearing on this matter," Gottfried's attorneys, Scott Tompsett and Elliot Abrams, said in a statement.

In October 2018, a jury in New York convicted former Adidas executive James Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code and aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins on conspiracy and fraud charges for their roles in a pay-for-play scheme to steer top recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools, including Kansas, Louisville and NC State.

Gassnola, a former Adidas grassroots director from Springfield, Massachusetts, accepted a plea deal from prosecutors before the trial and testified before the federal government.

Gassnola testified that Early reached out to him in October 2015 and expressed concern that Smith Jr. might be reneging on his verbal commitment to play for the Wolfpack.

"The consistent and credible evidence, together with factual information uncovered in this investigation, confirms that Early made arrangements for financial aid or other benefits to Smith or his family members or friends in violation of Bylaw 13.2.1," the NCAA enforcement staff wrote in its reply.

NC State chancellor Randy Woodson said the university disagreed with many of the enforcement staff's findings.

"While we appreciate the NCAA Enforcement Staff's detailed response, NC State remains in strong disagreement with many of the characterizations and conclusions in their Enforcement Written Reply," Woodson said. "As we have said throughout this process, we will vigorously defend the university where necessary and take ownership where appropriate. We look forward to a hearing with the infractions committee and the opportunity to make our case in person."

Phone records obtained by the NCAA showed that Early called Gassnola at least six times in the week preceding Oct. 30, 2015. Gassnola flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, and allegedly delivered an envelope with $40,000 in cash to Early's house on Nov. 2, 2015, according to the NCAA, and Early allegedly told Gassnola that he would give the money to Farmer.

"Additionally, October 30 -- the day Gassnola withdrew the $40,000 -- Early and Gassnola exchanged two phone calls and one text and Early had two phone calls with Farmer," the NCAA response said. "On November 1 -- the day Gassnola booked his flight to Raleigh -- he and Early spoke once by phone and had one text message conversation, and Early spoke with Farmer at least three times."

The response indicated that Gassnola and Early communicated via text nine times on the day Gassnola delivered the $40,000, and Gassnola had a six-minute telephone conversation with Gottfried.

Then-NC State associate head coach Bobby Lutz told NCAA investigators that Gassnola was "at the NC State practice facility speaking with Early and Gottfried immediately before the [national letter of intent] signing period in late October/early November 2015."

After receiving the money from Gassnola, according to the NCAA, Early and Farmer had 44 telephone calls and Early had two calls with Gatto during the week leading up to the Nov. 11, 2015, signing day.

Early, who worked at NC State from 2011 to 2017, didn't agree to be interviewed by NCAA investigators, according to the enforcement staff's response.

"Early did not respond to the [notice of allegations] and, consistent with Bylaw 19.7.2, Early's failure to submit a response may be viewed by the hearing panel as an admission that the alleged violations occurred," the enforcement staff response said. "Additionally, Early did not cooperate with the investigation and, consistent with Bylaws and, Early's failure to participate in an interview may be viewed by the hearing panel as an admission that the alleged violation occurred. Early's non-cooperation may be used as further corroboration of Gassnola's and Gatto's statements confirming the violations."

The enforcement staff wrote that NCAA rules permit the Committee on Infractions to base its decision on circumstantial evidence, even if there is no actual proof of Early delivering the money to Farmer.

"The direct record shows that Early arranged for Gassnola to provide him $40,000 and that he intended to provide that money to Farmer," the NCAA response said. "There is no evidence that Early kept the money or provided it to someone not associated with Smith. The record also shows that the objective of the arrangement -- Smith's commitment and early enrollment -- happened shortly after Early received the money, and during that same time Early communicated extensively with Farmer, Gassnola, Gatto and the Smith family."

The NCAA said that when Smith Jr. enrolled at NC State in January 2016, he and his father "lived in government subsidized housing."

"However, by April 2016, Smith's family moved to a home valued at more than $200,000," the enforcement staff wrote.

Smith played one season for the Wolfpack and was the No. 9 pick of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2017 NBA draft. He currently plays for the New York Knicks.

"Lastly, Smith did not receive an athletics scholarship for the 2016 spring semester and had to pay the remaining balance of his fees after his Federal Pell and institutional grants were calculated," the response said. "Based on this information, it is unremarkable to conclude that Early followed through with his original intent and provided the $40,000 to Farmer to ensure that Smith enrolled at NC State."

In a response to the notice of allegations in December, lawyers for NC State and Gottfried questioned Gassnola's credibility. Gassnola had a criminal history before pleading guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to the Adidas bribery case. He was sentenced to one-year supervised release, including two months of home confinement and electronic monitoring, and a $100 fine.

"The enforcement staff believes the totality of the evidence presented and positions taken in the Gatto case and Gassnola case, together with the facts uncovered in this investigation, confirm Gassnola's credibility," the enforcement staff wrote. "Further, not only did Gassnola testify under oath in a criminal proceeding with penalty of perjury and extensive prison time at risk in the Gatto case, he also pled guilty to the same criminal activity. The enforcement staff believes that these factors far outweigh the fact that Gassnola has a criminal record."