Hurricanes recruit, father deny FBI allegations under oath

By Michelle Kaufman, Miami Herald | Source, MSN

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga gives instructions to his team during the second half against Duke at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla., on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Miami won, 55-50.

Orlando high school basketball player Nassir Little, whose recruitment by the University of Miami came into question as part of an FBI investigation, denied under oath on Friday the bribery allegations and any misconduct by the Hurricanes coaching staff. His father, Harold Little, signed a sworn affidavit, as well.

The Herald also learned that UM coach Jim Larranaga, who has vehemently denied any involvement in improper recruiting, was interviewed by the FBI for two hours at Miami International Airport a few weeks ago.

“We have affidavits from Nassir and his father, swearing under oath, under penalty of perjury, that neither he, nor his family, nor anyone associated with the University of Miami, ever so much as discussed any payment of any kind, and we view that as a huge step forward (in clearing Miami’s name),” said attorney Ed Shohat, who, along with attorney Stuart Z. Grossman, is representing Larranaga. “These sworn statements destroy the narrative put out by the federal government, and, in my view, renders their investigation a farce.”

Federal authorities have wire taps and recordings that allegedly prove two Adidas employees, Little’s AAU coach, an aspiring agent and some college coaches conspired to funnel money to players to persuade those players to attend specific schools sponsored by the shoe company. Little ended up committing to the University of North Carolina, a Nike school.

Although UM is not mentioned by name, it is identified in the FBI report as “University 7,” and an unnamed “Coach 3” from the Hurricanes staff was allegedly discussed in two conversations by defendants. The transcripts of those phone calls have not been made public.

Larranaga has denied any misconduct, said he had “zero involvement” in the alleged scheme, and also defended his assistant coaches Chris Caputo, Jamal Brunt and Adam Fisher.

“I state unequivocally that, with the exception of athletic scholarships customary to attendant to such recruiting, neither I nor my father, Harold Little, ever solicited or discussed a payment of any kind in exchange for my commitment to play basketball at the University of Miami or any school,” Nassir Little said in an Oct. 13 sworn affidavit acquired by the Miami Herald.

“No corporate official or employee or AAU official or representative ever offered or so much as discussed any form of improper payment to myself or to any member of my family. Neither I, nor to my knowledge my father, ever spoked with (defendants) James Gatto, Merl Code, Christian Dawkins, Jonathan Brad Augustine or Munish Sood or AAU coach Darryl Hardin about improper payments or any payment at all. And certainly, no coach or representative of the University of Miami or any university had such discussions with us.”

Larranaga’s attorneys have been in touch with federal authorities and are urging them to clear UM of any wrongdoing and remove the cloud of suspicion that has hung over the program since the FBI report was made public on Sept. 26.

“We believe the government has every right to pursue crime and we encourage them to do so,” Shohat said. “But their responsibility is much larger than that. It is to see that justice is done and to avoid collateral damage whenever possible. They do not do that here, and the result is that a number of innocent people and a clean program have been damaged unnecessarily and unfairly.”

Grossman said Larranaga’s squeaky-clean reputation over four decades of coaching is at stake, and he hopes for a speedy resolution to the matter.

“The hardest part of defending our beloved Coach L is having to watch him suffer as only an innocent man can when the ‘facts,’ which he can easily defend, won’t be revealed by his accuser,” Grossman said. “That needs to happen right now so that the damage to his reputation and to that of the University can be stopped. We implore the government to play fair.”

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