Key figures in college basketball scandal were Orlando Early’s guests at NC State games

Two of the key figures in the college basketball bribery scandal each attended an N.C. State home basketball game, as a guest of a former N.C. State assistant coach, during the 2015-16 season.

Jim Gatto, a former Adidas marketing executive, and T.J. Gassnola, a former Adidas grassroots consultant, were two of the notable names on the ticket logs released by N.C. State this week in response to a public records request by The News & Observer.

In March, Gatto was sentenced to nine months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a wide-ranging pay-for-play scandal which included an alleged payment to the family of former N.C. State basketball star Dennis Smith Jr.

Last October, Gassnola testified during Gatto’s trial in a federal court in New York that he had asked Gatto for $40,000 to deliver to Smith’s family during the recruiting process in 2015.

The NCAA sent N.C. State a Notice of Allegations in July with four violations in connection to Smith’s recruitment and tenure at the school from Jan. 2016 through March 2017.

According to Gassnola’s testimony, which the NCAA used to help build its case against N.C. State, former Wolfpack assistant coach Orlando Early was involved in the payment to Smith’s family with Shawn Farmer, a personal trainer for Smith, as a “go between” for Adidas and Smith during the recruiting process.

N.C. State released the ticket records from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons to the N&O on Tuesday night. The school redacted the names on the lists for the players and team managers but provided a reproduction of the guest list form, with hand-written signatures of those who attended each N.C. State basketball game with complimentary tickets and which member of the coaching staff provided them.

Jim Gatto at a Louisville game

According to those records, Gatto attended only one game during the two seasons, the game against Louisville at PNC Arena on Jan. 7, 2016 as a guest of Early. On that game’s guest list, Gatto was identified as working with Adidas and the ticket was left by Early, who listed Gatto as a “business contact.”

Both N.C. State and Louisville have multi-million dollar endorsement contracts with Adidas and both were have found to have been defrauded by Gatto in the October trial.

The Louisville game was the first home game for N.C. State with Smith on the bench. Smith had committed to N.C. State in Sept. 2015 and then enrolled in Jan. 2016 to help rehabilitate a knee injury. He didn’t play during the 2015-16 season but he did sit on the team bench.

That Louisville game is also the only game of the 2015-16 season that includes the signature of Dennis Smith Sr. on the guest list. Smith Sr., who coached his son’s AAU team, is identified as the coach of Team Loaded on the guest list. The complimentary ticket was left by Early, who identified Smith Sr. as a coach.

Farmer, who has also worked as an AAU coach in the Triangle, attended the same Louisville game as Gatto and Smith Sr. and also signed in as a guest of Early.

Adidas officials could not be reached by email or phone Wednesday.

Gatto’s name only turns up in one record among the thousands of pages of documents N.C. State provided to The News & Observer last year as part of a public records request.

The N&O had sought all documents and communications that a grand jury had subpoenaed as part of the federal investigation. The record is an email discussing the unveiling of the 2014 NBA All-Star uniform.

TJ Gassnola at a UNC game

Early included Gassnola on the ticket list for the home game with North Carolina on Feb. 24, 2016. Gassnola is identified as working with Adidas on the guest list and the ticket was left by Early, who listed Gassnola as a “business contact.” Gassnola signed for the ticket and had tickets provided by Early for him and three guests.

Gassnola had pleaded guilty to wire fraud before the Gatto trial and had agreed to be a government witness. The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations to N.C. State includes a transcript of Gassnola’s testimony.

Early, who worked at N.C. State as an assistant to former coach Mark Gottfried for six seasons, has declined to respond to multiple interview requests from the N&O.

According to documents provided by N.C. State, Early declined to be interviewed by the NCAA. He is facing a Level I violation for being involved in the payment of Smith’s family.

Smith and his family have not responded to multiple interview requests from the N&O to comment on the Gatto case or the potential NCAA violations. In May, Smith went to N.C. State’s on-campus basketball facility for a workout and he agreed to an interview with Carrie Doyle, the school’s head of compliance.

Doyle, who testified during Gatto’s trial, included a memo of her conversation with Smith in the documents submitted by N.C. State to the NCAA. In response to a records request by the N&O, N.C. State has released the NCAA’s list of exhibits and a portion of those documents. Citing a nondisclosure agreement with the NCAA, the school has declined the N&O’s requests to release the memo created by Doyle.

Under the description of the memo in the list of exhibits, Smith denies “ever receiving cash from anyone at the institution or Farmer.”

Farmer declined a recent interview by the N&O but wrote in a text message to the N&O earlier this month that “you don’t need to speak to me ... (Dennis) is not my son he was a client.”

When asked directly if he was involved in the payment from Gassnola to Early and then Smith’s family, Farmer wrote via text:

“You should be reaching out to those parties, not me. I don’t need to defend myself.”

Shawn Farmer’s complimentary tickets

Farmer is listed in the NCAA’s NOA for receiving $2,119 in “excessive complimentary tickets” over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Under NCAA rules, as someone who is “associated with a prospect,” Farmer is eligible to receive tickets on Smith’s primary ticket list or as an AAU coach he can receive one ticket for himself and one guest.

According to N.C. State’s records, Farmer attended five of the first eight home games of the 2015-16 season, which would have been after Smith had committed to the Wolfpack but before he had enrolled.

Over the course of the two seasons, Farmer received extra guest tickets in 17 games, including three games with four guests. For the home game against Virginia Tech on Jan. 4, 2017, Smith Sr. signed in as one of Farmer’s three guests.

The NCAA’s NOA outlines 13 different games and 106 excessive tickets for Smith’s family at a cost of $4,562. There is little to no consistency to how the school labeled Smith Sr. on its guest list. He is identified as an “AAU coach,” a “donor” and a “business contact.”

That was one of the administrative errors by the athletic department and the school’s compliance. The NCAA issued two Level II violations at the school for the provision of the excessive complimentary tickets and for the failure to monitor the ticket process.

N.C. State issued a statement from chancellor Randy Woodson after it received the NOA in July and will not comment on the case while it is ongoing, Fred Demarest, a senior associate athletic director, said on Wednesday.

N.C. State has until Oct. 7 to respond to the violations outlined in the NOA and subsequently there will be a hearing scheduled with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

Staff writer Dan Kane contributed.

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