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Adidas ‘fixer’ gets probation for cooperating with government investigation of NCAA corruption


A “fixer” for Adidas who testified he specialized in “black ops” involving secret payments to college basketball players was sentenced to one year of probation Tuesday thanks to his cooperation with the government.

TJ Gassnola, 47, was the first person to plead guilty in connection with federal prosecutors’ investigation into corruption in the NCAA.

He coached an amateur basketball team in western Massachusetts, the New England Playaz, that was sponsored by Adidas. Shortly after FBI agents approached him in Oct. 2017 about secret payments by Adidas to the families of college players, Gassnola started talking.

He detailed a scheme in which an Adidas executive, Jim Gatto, and two basketball insiders, Christian Dawkins and Merl Code, made payments in the hopes of securing players’ commitments to colleges sponsored by the company. They hoped to establish relationships resulting in lucrative sponsorship deals once the players went pro.

Gassnola’s cooperation revealed the scheme was “more pervasive, more extreme" than investigators initially thought, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Mark said.

Judge Lewis Kaplan’s probation sentence for wire fraud conspiracy included two months of home confinement. Gassnola must also must forfeit $342,437.

The judge said Gassnola had played an “essential” role in the case, which served “a real public interest.”

On the stand, Gassnola testified he was part of a team known within Adidas as “black ops.”

“A black operation is dark, underground, you don’t want anybody to know about it,” Gassnola said.

He defined black ops as “payments to players and families of players.” He said he’d paid the family of former University of Arizona star Deandre Ayton, who was the top pick of the 2018 NBA draft and plays for the Phoenix Suns.

The testimony helped secure a guilty verdict against Gatto, who was once Gassnola’s close friend. Dawkins and Code were also found guilty.

“I’m sorry for any harm I’ve caused,” Gassnola said in court. “I just want to move on, to rebuild.”