Christian Dawkins Was at the Center of an Explosive NCAA Basketball Scandal. Now He’s Telling the Real Story.

It’s the summer of 2017, and Christian Dawkins is trying to convince an investor in his sports management firm that it’s dumb—like, might-as-well-burn-the-money dumb—to bribe college coaches. Those guys hardly have any influence over where the players sign.

“If you just want to be Santa Claus and give people money, well shit, let’s take the money and go to a strip club and buy hookers,” Dawkins said at the time.

Dawkins was joking. (He does that a lot.) His humor fucks him over, occasionally. But this time, it might’ve saved his life. Or, at the very least, cut down a max prison sentence of 200 years. Turns out that investor, Jeff D’Angelo, was an alias—he was an undercover FBI agent. Ouch. D’Angelo was posing as an investor in Dawkins’s sports management firm—where, together, they allegedly hatched a plan to fund basketball recruits and pay college coaches, with hopes of signing the players to the colleges of their choosing. But Dawkins never believed in the paying-coaches part, although together, Dawkins and D’Angelo did make payments to coaches. Regardless, the Santa-Claus-and-strippers wire-tapped call—where Dawkins said-without-saying No, I don’t want to bribe coaches—would be used in his defense case.

The FBI’s investigation of Dawkins turned out to be at the center of one of the biggest sports controversies of last decade, the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball corruption scandal. From 2015 to 2017, the FBI launched an unprecedented probe against the college basketball world, finding evidence that ASM Sports (a high-profile sports management firm) loaned money to high school and college basketball players. Partially thanks to Marty Blazer, a film producer and financial adviser who was a cooperating witness in the case against toward Dawkins, four college coaches, one Adidas executive, and others, including Dawkins, were charged with crimes such as wire fraud, money-laundering, and conspiracy. Last year, Dawkins was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, and was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. In addition, Dawkins was sentenced to six-months in jail sentence for a pay-to-play scheme to direct recruits to signing with Adidas-backed college basketball programs. Dawkins, who now works in the music industry, is appealing this charge, and his attorney, Steve Haney, says will also appeal the bribery charges.

Now, Dawkins is telling his story for the first time in The Scheme, a documentary that will air on HBO Tuesday night. And, if the above sounded like a doozy, wait until you see the film—which details a blockbuster-quality FBI raid, money trading hands by the minute, and the long-suspected dark side of college sports, which, for years, has been subject of debate over whether or not it should pay players as professional athletes.

Before the documentary’s premiere, we talked to Dawkins about the moment the FBI revealed themselves to him, the night he spent in jail, and the real issue he believes is at the heart of the FBI’s case against him.

ESQ: Of everything in the documentary, why am I stuck on Marty Blazer’s Mafia: The Movie?

CD: Yeah, I mean, that was the first time I’d seen the actual trailer was the first time I’d actually seen the documentary, and I just was like, Man! We’re all going down. This shit is terrible. This trailer is awful, and Ving Rhames is my guy. But they lookin’ crazy in that Marty Blazer-produced bullshit.

ESQ: Did the possibility that undercover FBI agents were investigating you, even joking, ever cross your mind until you were in the hotel when they revealed themselves?

CD: I’m gonna be honest with you: I didn’t… If I was actually committing real crimes, like selling drugs, or all the stuff that you would think that the Feds are following you for, I would’ve been a lot more careful. I never thought, in real life—not even that the Feds would never prosecute a basketball case—I never thought they would even waste their time with me.

I guess I was just so confident in my abilities to get stuff done that I was like listen, I’m not really worried about who [Jeff D’Angelo, the undercover FBI agent] may have ties to or may have relationships with. I just wanted to do the business and close stuff. That was the only focus. Sometimes, when I get really locked in on something, I have a maniacal obsession, like a laser focus. And that’s a good thing, but sometimes a bad thing too. And obviously in this particular situation, it turned out to be an awful thing.

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Christian Dawkins in The Scheme.

HBO

ESQ: It’s crazy—the initial FBI bust sounds like it was right out of a movie.

CD: No, that shit happened. That wasn’t a movie though… It was probably more dramatic than even—if the Feds were being honest—I’m sure they’d be like, That was one of the most dramatic arrests that [we] had to deal with. Cause we were probably in there for a couple hours. It wasn’t fast, ‘cause I was taking pregnant pauses between everything I said.

[Editor’s note: Dawkins’s account of the arrest was never discussed in court, although, the director, Pat Kondelis, and Dawkins’s lawyer, Steve Haney, confirmed to Esquire that “The manner in which Christian was arrested is accurate and consistent with the way the FBI swat teams arrest individuals in these types of cases, and in fact was the same way the other defendants were arrested in this case.”]

ESQ: Was there ever a split second where, in the heat of the moment, you thought about cooperating with them?

CD: Oh, one million percent. Let’s not get this thing twisted. Anybody who is under that type of pressure would at least think about the scenario. I told them that I was gonna cooperate with them, and I thought by saying that, I was gonna be able to leave and go back home, get my thoughts together. They also knew people that I didn’t like, so I couldn’t give them people who I didn’t like. The whole scenario of who [can] you give us—that’s how I knew who they wanted me to testify against.

I basically said to them, “What do you guys want? Like fuck it, what do you want?” And that’s when they came back with the list of names that they wanted… I said to them, “Okay, I’ll do it.” They said to me, “Okay, if you’re in, start wearing a wire right now. We’ll wire you up right now.” Start calling people right now, and start recruiting people, which I could’ve easily fucked everybody if I wanted to do that. But when they said that, it became like, Nah, I can’t. I can’t do people like this. What it went back to was not me being some tough guy. In my head, I couldn’t make sense of what anybody did that was a crime. And everybody has children, people have wives, people have lives at stake here. I’m not going to help possibly put somebody in prison over something that I don’t even believe they did wrong. I don’t believe anybody in this scenario did anything that I would be like, He’s a bad guy. It’s just a business.

ESQ: Was there a moment where you’re like, I’m gonna fight back, I’m not gonna take this and go away. Did that happen at all?

CD: I mean, when I’d seen that I had 200 years. The maximum sentence was possibly 200 years. Once I seen that, I was like, Fuck this. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. When I realized what they were charging me for—cause you gotta remember, at the time in the suite, I don’t know anything about my charges. I don’t know what my charges are until I get back home. ‘Cause I had never heard of these charges before everything was put on the table. I mean, I’m from Saginaw, Michigan, ain’t nobody commit no fuckin’ bribery in Saginaw. We had nothing to bribe nobody to get when you grow up in places like that. So, I was simply kinda air-headed about the whole thing, and I came back home, and once I break down the charges and seeing the maximum sentence, I was like, Yo, to me these aren’t crimes, so I’m not gonna include anyone else into my misery. I have to deal with this, I got into it.

ESQ: In that interim night, between when you get home and when you’re in the hotel, you have to spend that night in jail. What’s going through your head that night?

CD: I didn’t sleep. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the guys that was in there, it would’ve been fuckin’ miserable. This is the God’s-honest-truth: The guys in there told me that everybody else would get arrested. “Tomorrow, they’re gonna do a sweep. It’s not gonna just be you and people who you was talking to, it’s gonna be a group of y’all gonna all get picked up… You’re gonna get six months if you lose.” The fucking guy had the sentence down to the date. I guess they just learned so much by seeing how the system works. They were like almost experts on it. So, it was just so disgusting in there, like rats running around, it was gross. But the guys, once we started to talk and stuff it became pretty cool. It wasn’t the worst thing.

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Christian Dawkins in The Scheme.

HBO Sports

ESQ: The guys in prison with you knew all of this stuff?

CD: Yeah! They were the ones who told me all this.

ESQ: And that El Chapo was in the same facility too.

CD: Yeah, they told me the El Chapo thing, too. After the first hour and a half, I was like, We might as well all fuckin talk because I’m bored as shit, and I can’t just sit here. There’s no fuckin clocks in here, I don’t even know what time it is. It’s the worst scenario you could possibly think of. It’s a small room you’re in. You got to remember I’m in lockdown at [Metropolitan Correctional Center]. I’m not in a real jail. I’m in a holding jail for essentially the worst criminals that the Southern District has prosecuted. So they put the worst of the worst there. I just so happened to have to be in there because of the Brooklyn jail being full. Like fucking Jeffrey Epstein, where he killed himself, is where we were.

ESQ: So, to move to the legal side of it: That strip club joke that you made on a wire-tapped call, it seems like it really did a lot for you.

CD: So, we go to Vegas, and obviously it’s a big tournament, so all the coaches are there. There’s not much to do in Vegas besides gamble and go to strip clubs. So I was basically saying it to him, kind of tongue in cheek, but also like bro, the amount of money that we’re gonna waste with this theory, I just couldn’t believe the numbers, the math of what he was trying to break down. And I guess that’s the dumbest moment of my life where I should’ve just been like, Dude, you gotta just get out of this. But I was just like fuck it, and that was a mistake.

NCAA Coaches Indicted On Federal Bribery And Corruption Charges
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Attorneyâs Office, Southern District of New York, on September 26, 2017 in New York, New York. announce charges of fraud and corruption in college basketball. The acting U.S. Attorney announced Federal criminal charges against ten people, including four college basketball coaches, as well as managers, financial advisors, and representatives of a major international sportswear company.

Kevin Hagen

ESQ: What also helped you, is that you had all that money stored away in your house not knowing it was that FBI money.

CD: I definitely needed that. I didn’t know it was their money, no, ‘cause I was thinking that these were investors. So the whole idea for me wasn’t necessarily to even hustle the FBI, or hustle my investors. I’m literally in my head thinking I’m being a good samaritan by saving money and depositing it back into our business account, so we can continue to run a business properly. I’m reinvesting back into the business not knowing that in reality, it’s all a set up. And listen, the government had access to my bank account because obviously we opened it together. They knew I was depositing money back into it, like there’s no way you’re gonna fuckin’ tell me that they didn’t know money was being deposited back into the account. They had to know. They knew numerous times I wasn’t with their plan. I said to them numerous times paying coaches is fuckin’ stupid.

ESQ: Watching this documentary, the last 15 minutes feels like an hour, because then all of a sudden they pivot to these conversations between you and Sean Miller, and between you and Will Wade.

CD: Yeah.

[Editor’s note: The Scheme features several previously-unheard phone calls that have not been released to the public, until now. The documentary presents one call that it says is between Dawkins and Sean Miller, as well as one that is allegedly between Dawkins and Will Wade. In 2018, ESPN reported that FBI wire-taps discovered a conversation between Dawkins and University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller about a purported payment of $100,000 to DeAndre Ayton. Miller has not been charged of any crimes, and has vehemently denied all accusations, including the reported call regarding Ayton. Wade was temporarily suspended by LSU after reports emerged that, in an FBI wire-tap, he made an unspecified offer to a recruit, although he was not charged with any crimes either and has denied doing any business with Dawkins. Both coaches, were subpoenaed in the case by Dawkins’s defense team—which a judge ruled was irrelevant—have denied involvement in any form of corruption.]

ESQ: It was so crazy to me hearing what someone so polished, like a Sean Miller, sounds like over the phone, in private.

LSU v Arkansas
Head Coach Will Wade of the LSU Tigers reacts to a official call during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena on March 4, 2020 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Wesley Hitt

CD: Mhm. Mhm. Mhm.

ESQ: I can’t imagine what it’s like from your perspective. Because the viewer gets these conversations with Miller and Wade right next to their denials of any criminal involvement. How do you reconcile the conversations you had with them with what you’re seeing in these press conferences that happen in the public eye?

CD: I believe that, one, I’m never gonna fuck over my people, so even if someone has been good to me and been loyal to me, and there’s some heat, I’m not gonna double down and act like I don’t know what went down. The only issue is: I don’t like how the university and Sean had this scenario that they were victimized, and writing letters to the court and shit. Almost doubling down and making themselves out to be this horrible victim. That to me is fucked up. I think Will Wade is fucking epic. People may not like Will, but end of the day, he doesn’t give a fuck, so I kinda like people who don’t give a fuck… This is the reason why I don’t feel bad for them. When you’re in a powerful position, you use power and influence to change things. That’s the whole fuckin’ point. You get to that position and you have the ability to help people, which can change everything. And you sit on your hands. You can’t be a leader and fail to act.

[Coaching staffs are] doing this because that’s what the market bears. It’s already happening, okay? So they have no fucking choice. So my point is, listen, if you all you coaches know you gotta do certain things to get stuff done, why not go in support of players being able to monetize their name, image and likeness? I’m not even saying put everybody on payroll, but just the basic shit. The basic shit in place prevents all of this from happening. That’s why in the end I don’t say fuck the DOJ or fuck the FBI. I say fuck the NCAA… Because even with [the FBI and NCAA] doing what they did, they couldn’t do it without those fucking rules.

ESQ: Because that’s the source of it.

CD: Those universities should be fucking sued if they were to fire [coaches], because you paid them that much fucking money to do exactly what they’re doing. You didn’t pay them millions of dollars to lose, or not to get the best players. So let’s use common sense here, bro. There shouldn’t be any hysteria from anyone’s side about what they did. What they did should be celebrated—it should be hysteria about them lying, and about them not using their power to help and failing to act. That’s the fucking problem. There’s nothing wrong with what they were doing, and honestly, it should be out in the open. It shouldn’t have to be a secret.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 29 Kansas at Kansas State

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ESQ: Through this entire thing, what have you learned in the past three years, just as a person?

CD: One, be careful. Be careful first. Act slower, you know? Be overly careful, be overly detailed, be overly cautious would be one of the things… And also it informed me, honestly, the hypocrisies of the system. I mean listen, I’m not the type of person that will say people are racist, but at the same time, it is very, very, very, very, very hard for me to understand how you can have a man like Marty Blazer who can literally get arrested for stealing millions of dollars from people. For him to even have an option to start this investigation is the epitome of white privilege. There’s no chance Christian Dawkins could get arrested for stealing four million dollars and say, “Listen guys, don’t arrest me—I shouldn’t face prison time. Let me go help you find these guys paying these players.” There’s no way they will work with that. They would’ve been like, Shut the fuck up, this is over.

[Editor’s note: In 2017, Blazer pled guilty to several charges, including securities fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and making false statements and documents. In 2016, he agreed with SEC allegations that he defrauded five clients out of $2.35 million.]

ESQ: That’s a point you made in the documentary, that if all the players were white, we would probably have a different scenario with amateurs.

CD: If the tables were reversed and [coaches, sneaker companies, and conference leaders] are all black, [and] players that are responsible for bringing billions among billions of dollars are all white, it would be as big of a crisis as anything. They would shut shit the fuck down. Congress would act immediately. But it’s not as urgent of a problem because for years, the system has been okay with our people just getting the bare minimum. If we get anything, you should just be happy. You get a scholarship? You should be happy that you got your tuition paid.

If you really look at the game that’s played within the game, it ain’t set up for us to win. When I say us, I’m talking about minorities. Until we seriously assess what’s really happening, and not look at my story from the standpoint of an individual who was charged with wire fraud or bribery, but look at my story as an individual who was simply just trying to monetize what the marketplace should be bearing, and that turned into this. I guarantee you if I was another color and I was doing this, the words to describe me would be completely different. If the players we we’re talking about, are all fucking Kirk Hinrich-type players, I may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

ESQ: At the very beginning of the documentary, you say that you’re finally agreeing to be interviewed for the first time so you can tell your story. Do you think the documentary accomplished that?

CD: I don’t necessarily want to tell my story, but I want to tell the bigger story. And to me, I think we definitely accomplished telling my story brilliantly, fantastic. I will never be able to thank HBO enough for giving me two fuckin’ hours to talk shit… But what I don’t want to get lost is the bigger picture, which is, at the end of the day, this is quite possibly a case of selective prosecution… Secondly, the prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prosecute, really, if it wasn’t for these insane rules that are racist, that are biased, that are unjust.

Everyone feels they should get paid more. The NCAA is the only organization in the history of humanity that’s fuckin’ been able to convince people that they should get paid nothing. It’s the most beautiful marketing twist of all-time in business, honestly. But at the end of the day, it’s fucked up. There’s no other way you can dice it.

ESQ: Is there anything we didn’t talk about that’s important here?

CD: Nah, I think I kinda ran my mouth enough about the bigger picture, which is the social thing… That to me is the bigger issue. Everyone has fuckin’ heard enough about Christian Dawkins. Holy shit. I think everyone wants to go to sleep when they hear that name.