Martin Fox and Mark Riddell.
Neither the familiar names … unless you work in college sport, where everyone is now wondering if one or the other or both have additional stories or secrets to share in dealing with federal crimes.
Fox is widely known in the AAU and the world of college basketball. Now that the 62-year-old gadfly hoop is accused of conspiracy to commit racketeering, his confused role in the sport is under scrutiny.
"It was a known person," said Sonny Vaccaro, a godfather of the sport shoe trade, "but we did not know exactly what he had done."
The FBI said it knew one thing Fox had done: facilitating academic fraud as an intermediary, channeling bribes from the head of a shady company preparing for university studies in California to a standardized test administrator in Houston and the tennis coach of the University of Texas. In the indictment of the undisclosed US prosecutor on Tuesday, Fox allegedly routed William "Rick" Singer's money to Lisa "Niki" Williams to allow students to get money. sufficiently high scores on the ACT to be eligible for admission to elite universities.
So, the question arises: if Fox was skilled at channeling money to repair tests for these kids, was he doing the same for the myriad of teenage basketball stars he was associated with in the Houston area? The government may want to know. So could the NCAA.
Then there is Riddell, who was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, honest service fraud and money laundering, for his role as a so-called standardized tester at the heart of a part of the scam. Federal prosecutors said the 36-year-old was receiving about $ 10,000, either to correct or correct, or to get the desired score or the preferred score, the perfect score in passing, while avoiding the signals of Alert and security checks of the test services.
According to federal prosecutors, Riddell was "only a really smart guy … [who could] get an almost perfect score on demand or to calibrate the score. "
"If your daughter took the SAT alone the first time and got a particular score, by resuming the exam, if her score went up too much, that would induce some control," said American lawyer Andrew Lelling. "So [the conspirators] would discuss with the parents the type of score that was impressive, but not too much, then ask Riddell to try to get it. And he was just good enough to do it. "
The problematic part of university athletics is Riddell's day-to-day job: director of college entrance exam preparation at the IMG Academy in Florida, a school that brings together dozens of college recruits in almost all sports, including elite players from football, basketball and baseball.
If Riddell were willing and able to set standardized tests for some people, would he do it for all people, namely the students that he was preparing for the exams and who might need a specific score for to be eligible for a scholarship? IMG announced Tuesday it has suspended Riddell for an indefinite period and opened an investigation.
No one would be surprised if the NCAA opened its own investigation of Riddell.
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Fox's relationship with university athletics is more nebulous. He has been described in the media as the "general manager" of Houston Hoops. He has also interacted with some of the best players in this talent-rich city in recent years, including former Duke star, Justise Winslow, former Kansas star, Kelly Oubre and the former star. from Kentucky, from 'Aaron Fox' (no relation). choice of the NBA in the first round after a university ball season.
Fox sat behind the Virginia Tech bench for the Hokies' last regular season game with Miami in Blacksburg, Va., On Friday night. Virginia Tech, of Buzz Williams, is one of Fox's many close coaches and told the story Wednesday night when he introduced his son to Fox, his son asked him, "What is he, is he a coach? "Williams said. I would say no, he is in the middle of everything. He added, "I did not know that he was in the middle of that," referring to the federal problem.
The story continues
This is not the first time that Fox's name has been mentioned recently as part of a federal corruption investigation. In the first trial for college basketball fraud in October, the so-called "man of the bag" Adidas, TJ Gassnola said in his testimony that Fox had transferred him $ 40,000, amount that Gassnola then withdrew from a loan. Cash bank and flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he entrusted him to an assistant basketball coach from the state of North Carolina. Gassnola testified that it was "a payment to Dennis Smith's family". Dennis Smith Jr. played one season at NC State before becoming the ninth pick in the 2017 draft.
Gassnola testified that he had repaid Fox a month later. But this loan and the relationship with Gassnola creates a compelling snapshot of Fox as a purported repairer who transcends levels, the kind of guy a porter can ask for a $ 40,000 loan to hand out as "money in an envelope" to an assistant coach to appease the family of a future lottery choice.
"Everyone likes it," said a longtime acquaintance of Fox closely linked to the sport. "Martin is a nice guy and he would do anything to help, but for some reason, he's done everything possible to be on the belly of college basketball."
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Anyone who flipped Fox's Twitter account on Tuesday afternoon witnessed a sporty muscle vanity bending. There was Fox mugging with Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Johnny Bench in separate footage. There were scenes from Virginia Tech's post-game basketball locker room, drills at Kansas's Allen Fieldhouse and a picture of Duke's close to Winslow cutting the nets. A few minutes later, De 'Aaron Fox and his family were participating in a photo after his stint in Kentucky, live on ESPNU, in November 2015. Fox is almost in all the photos, happy to position himself at the time. events like the Super Bowl and with bold names from the sports world. world.
There were more photos of Fox with a bunch of coaches: John Calipari of Kentucky during his induction into the Hall of Fame; Rick Pitino in Las Vegas; Maryland coach Mark Turgeon before a game. And there were private jets, a lot of private jets.
And in the late evening on Tuesday, Martin Fox's Twitter account was removed. So was his Instagram account.
Until it was stopped by the FBI as part of an operation called "Operation Varsity Blues", Fox was a staple in sports circles. In court documents, he is described as the president of a tennis academy in Houston. But that does not begin to tell the story of Fox, who touched the ticket market, the concierge service for athletes, the AAU basketball, the organization of tournaments and other events academics. He lived in the realm of corporate, sports shoe agents and trainers, many of whom would be worried if what he knew about basketball black market was being passed on to federal authorities.
"He was in the middle of everything," said Buzz Williams, who said he was not nervous about his ties to Fox and that he was unaware of his arrest before he "made it. a Yahoo Sports reporter warns him at the ACC tournament on Wednesday night. "I think it does not speak negatively to him or to those he knows.Everyone knows Fox.This is not because of one thing in particular.C & # 39; is just all these things. "
This is a well-known story: a recognized basketball midfielder with a strong influence in the recruiting world is stopped and faces serious charges and dozens of university coaches hold their breath wondering what he will tell the federal authorities. This is not a new story in a sport marked by scandal, but this Tuesday's bombshell from the federal government added an extra layer to the saga.
He has had reports in the final stages of this season with Kansas coach Bill Self, sources told Yahoo Sports. He's pretty close to the David and Dana Pump twins, long known as dabblers in the AAU, world of events and ticket sales, to be known as the "Third Pump Brother". This is not a compliment.
"He's a guy who's been involved in a lot of different things," said a veteran division coach I know well, who knows Fox. "He was addicted to the Pump Brothers, and all he was trying to do was get us to play games and sell [conference tournament] tickets. You will not be in Texas or anywhere else, and you do not know Martin Fox. "
Fox appears in the UNC-Charlotte (now just Charlotte) male tennis media guide of 1977-1978 as the letter winner. He was also a student manager of the basketball team. Throughout his life, Fox has maintained his positions in both sports.
Fox has become so attached to so many people that it is difficult to discern where his fandom ended and where his business interests began. A few events in which Fox participated in the second half of 2015, according to his now-removed Twitter thread: the US National Basketball Team's Trials for US Basketball in Colorado Springs in June; the NBA project later this month; Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September, when Calipari was honored; The first practice session of the 2015-16 season in North Carolina in October; and the televised announcement of De Aaron Fox on national television in November.
"He liked the game," said the longtime acquaintance. "Wherever he can connect, he has tried to do it."
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In the uproar "Operation Varsity Blues", Fox did a more granular job.
For example, Fox is accused of having worked as an intermediary in 2015 between a real estate developer from Beverly Hills, California, and a coach from the University of San Diego, in order to ensure that he was in good standing. ensure admission to school. This included, at the expense of the federal government, Fox receiving a bank transfer of $ 100,000 and remitting an undisclosed amount to the coach.
On another occasion, Fox would have received a payment of $ 50,000 from Rick Singer, the central figure of the scandal, for helping to "facilitate" a relationship with the woman who operated a standardized test site in the Houston area, where Singer was able to correct the scores reportedly sent to Riddell.
Singer's ability to bribe test site administrators in Houston and West Hollywood, California, meant that Riddell could claim to play the role of "monitor" of the exam and pass the test for a paying student or simply retrieve their tests and correct them later. Each student had to be diagnosed with a learning disorder by a doctor and therefore be eligible for a test without timekeeping, often over two days. On some occasions, the student did not even know that Riddell was changing his answers and correcting the score, according to federal prosecutors.
In the last two years, there has been a wave of corruption that has enveloped university athletics. There are three federal cases that culminated in a series of guilty pleas and the recent conviction of three men convicted of conspiracy charges. Another potentially invasive trial is scheduled for April. One of the defense lawyers promised to lift the veil on the operation of basketball.
But the plot that unfolded this week and touched everything from Hollywood to the AAU through so-called athletes and seven-digit admission scams, has provided a new frontier to those who thought they had seen everything.
"Honestly, I can say that I have watched the evolution of how money has been transferred by the hands of money," Vaccaro said. "It does not matter if the players are good or not, there is always a place to go to university.It's a whole new world of corruption.I do not know anymore what's left to prostitute in university athletics, where can we go? "
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