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College basketball corruption trial: How a disgraced financial adviser’s wild testimony might determine this case

NEW YORK — Will testimony from the government’s star witness be the thing that decides the still-unspooling, fascinating second college basketball corruption trial? It seems possible as cross examination of ex-fiancial adviser Marty Blazer wrapped Friday.

Blazer went almost four full days on the stand and, in testifying against already-convicted felons Christian Dawkins and Merl Code, helped put forth more visuals, evidence, stories and accounts on the proverbial table in this trial than could have possibly been expected. Blazer brought so much context to the allegations in this trial — even lighting a match in college football’s forest — that it’s impossible to see how his voice and testimony doesn’t play a major factor, even the biggest factor, in determining which way a verdict lands when the trial concludes, which could come next week. 

And on Friday, the defense got its chance to chip away, with obvious disgust, at the self-admitted fraudster. For three days, Blazer’s testimony under direct examination from federal prosecutors was interesting, revealing and — in certain moments — genuinely surprising.

The question that takes us into the weekend is: Will the jury believe Blazer more than it believes Dawkins and Code? The latter two aren’t expected to testify (neither did in the first case, in October). Putting a voice to allegations, with video, audio and textual proof, can be compelling.

And damn if Blazer wasn’t that. 

For as much as he’s deceived before, Blazer was slyly self-deprecating and transparent as to why he’s doing what he was doing: he has no interest in going to federal prison. The only way he’s avoiding a maximum sentence of 67 years, 85 percent of which he would be mandated to serve if he broke the terms of his agreement with the government, is to testify and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

“I have every reason in the world to tell the truth today,” Blazer said. “I have every reason not to lie.”

Blazer was a professional liar for so long, though, and that’s what the defense will most likely need to bank on if it’s to get not-guilty verdicts for Code and Dawkins. 

Turns out, some of what Blazer’s claimed is already vehemently being refuted. Blazer’s testimony from Wednesday about former USC assistant Tony Bland, who pleaded guilty in this case and is set for sentencing in May, included a headline-grabbing set of details. Bland allegedly accepting $13,000 in a swanky Las Vegas hotel suite in July 2017 and, before doing that, discussing recruitment and potential necessary “resources” for if and when No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III got to USC’s campus. 

On Friday, Bland’s lawyer heaved a statement from the other side of the country, taking his best shot at discrediting Blazer. 

Dawkins’ attorney, Steve Haney, got in his long-anticipated cross examination of Blazer on Friday. It was intense. Pointed. Rat-a-tat. Haney was a firecracker behind the podium as he peppered Blazer with questions about the 49-year-old’s shady past, his web of lies that led to him being sued for millions of dollars and the forgery of documents that only made him more of a lout, a federal criminal, a pathetic figure. 

At his most lucrative, Blazer was in charge of 20-plus clients and $15-plus million in assets. He intentionally misled and defrauded multiple people, including NFL players. 

Blazer officially pleaded guilty to five federal crimes in September 2017. He awaits sentencing. He said Friday he’s hoping what he’s provided in this investigation and subsequent trial means he never has to spend a day behind bars. A federal judge will eventually make that decision, however. 

Haney made certain Blazer came off as a miserable, sad, unsympathetic human being — obviously a contrast to the hold-my-hand procedures of the prosecution’s line of questioning. 

Haney tried to hit on a bit of everything. He induced talk of disgraced former NBA agent Andy Miller, who is coming off looking worse in this trial by the day, and again there were passing references to NBA agent Bill Duffy, who it has been insinuated had business arrangements with coaches at five major schools; Syracuse is the only one of those schools that’s been mentioned in this trial, and it’s been mentioned multiple times. 

Blazer reiterated his behavior of paying “student-athletes and their families,” something he said he did for more than a decade, mostly on the college football side. Blazer, on cross, testified that “many times” players have business relationships with agents and those with financial interests in the player by the time they get to campus. Not news-breaking, but still imperative for the jury to remember as they weigh this case. Blazer also said some agents “do their own dirty work” as opposed to always using runners (meaning: Dawkins).

Blazer testified it was a dirty business with, in the words of Haney, “people hustling others out of money all the time.” It’s something Blazer’s not only familiar with, it was basically his vocation for nearly a half-decade, before the facade came down around him and he was looped into this sting by the government. Blazer also called Miller “one of the most powerful agents in the NBA,” as Haney tried to establish that it was Miller running the shots and someone who was using Dawkins as a fall guy.  

“You knew Andy Miller to be an agent who had a reputation of breaking the rules,” Haney posited. 

To which Blazer simply said: “Yes.”

Haney fought back on the videos that were shown on Thursday, the ones in Las Vegas that had coach after coach parading through the Cosmopolitan hotel suite in July 2017, a few of those coaches accepting thousands of dollars in bribes. Haney asked Blazer if he knew the coaches gave the money back to Dawkins (Blazer did not; Haney’s assertions have not been proven in evidence or as fact in this case of yet). 

“I’m not pointing a finger at anybody,” Blazer said as his cross examination came near to a close. “I didn’t make the decisions that Christian made. I didn’t text Christian in December of 2015. He texted me. I didn’t ask him to pay Lamont Evans. He asked me.”

Which Marty Blazer was the jury choosing to see, wanting to believe? Approximately 90 percent of his time on the stand was with a federal prosecutor asking him questions, not the defense. But the defense was surely effective in tearing him down. 

Still, on re-direct, government prosecutor Robert Boone was devastating in his establishment of how Dawkins set up the meetings with the coaches and how how Blazer knew none of the men. He read off all the coaches’ names — 12 of them who met with Blazer, Dawkins and the undercover agent in Las Vegas — and asked if Blazer knew them before meeting them. Every response from Blazer was “no.” He asked if every coach knew Dawkins, or even Code. 

Every Blazer response to that was “yes.” 

A “no further questions” from Boone landed heavy. 

The impact of his testimony won’t truly be known until the verdicts come in, but it’s no doubt been felt in that courtroom, around college basketball and will reverberate as such through the weekend — and potentially to the end of this trial. 

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