U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos has officially had it with the leaks coming out of the FBI’s ongoing pay-for-play case against various college basketball programs.
Ramos issued an amendment to the case’s initial protective order on March 6, updating it to include two paragraphs that outline new guidelines for the legal teams involved to hew to, all in the hopes of preventing future leaks to the news media. Ramos’s new order sets down that “any material the government designates, or previously has designated, as ‘Classified Information’” won’t be made public, as it “could jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation.”
The new order comes in response to a series of articles from Yahoo! and ESPN over the past couple weeks that both carried water for the FBI and seemed to pull from potentially slippery leaks from the defendants. Head coach Sean Miller was named in a Feb. 23 ESPN article that reported the FBI wiretapped a phone call between Miller and sports agent runner Christian Dawkins and recorded the Wildcats coach as telling Dawkins “he should deal directly with him when it came to money.” The comment was allegedly connected to the recruitment of current Arizona freshman center DeAndre Ayton, the centerpiece of this season’s team. No audio or transcripts of the conversation were included in the piece, leading to some raised eyebrows and a correction from ESPN that was later retracted; after serving a brief suspension, Miller held a March 1 press conference to vehemently deny the allegations, saying “I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying DeAndre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona.”
While all this has been fairly entertaining to watch unfold on the national stage ahead of college basketball’s biggest event of the year, it is, unfortunately, still part of a taxpayer-funded legal case, which means that the people still working this case were fairly interested in knowing the identity of who leaked all this information to Yahoo! and ESPN. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Diskant said in a meeting on Feb. 28 that the materials published in the Yahoo! reports still had a stamp on them that indicated they could have only come from an attorney working the case. After reviewing every person working the case for the government, Diskant concluded that the leak did not come from the prosecution, meaning either one of the defendant’s attorneys or someone associated with them leaked the information to Yahoo! and ESPN.
“We have not provided any of this material to anyone else who is not a party to the case,” Diskant, the federal government’s attorney, said. “So the only people who could possibly have access to the documents provided to Yahoo Sports are the attorneys for the government and their support staff and the attorneys for the defendants and their support staff.”
“That only leaves defense counsel,” Diskant said, explaining that the government thinks the defendants “believe it to be in their advantage to highlight for the public the fact that ... money changes hands improperly in college sports has been happening frequently and rampantly and that others are involved, including others who have not yet been charged.”
When attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, representing ex-USC assistant Tony Bland, heard Diskant’s claim, he called it “frankly ludicrous,” per the Star, rebutting that the leaks hurt his client. Diskant responded by saying that likewise, the leak did not help the prosecution:
“It is not helpful to the government to have the material that is subject to an ongoing investigation leaked,” Diskant said. “But second and far more importantly, there are any number of third parties who have been completely and unfairly maligned by the result of this leak of information, something that the government takes incredibly seriously and would never intentionally do.”
The latest date for either side to respond to Ramos’s amendment was Monday, March 12. Lichtman’s team never responded; on Monday, the government prosecutors responded with a letter stating they do not oppose the amendment.
The amended protective order can be read in full below.