LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At least three former University of Louisville men’s basketball recruits have confirmed to NCAA investigators that they attended parties inside an on-campus dorm where strippers danced for them and prostitutes were paid to have sex with them, a source close to the NCAA investigation told Outside the Lines.
The source said the three former Louisville recruits met with NCAA investigators in October and November. Chuck Smrt, the person hired by the University of Louisville to monitor the progress of the NCAA’s investigation, also attended those meetings.
“There’s no question this stuff happened,” the source said. “There’s no question the people at the University of Louisville know this happened. Katina Powell is not an admirable person, but she told the truth.”
The recruiting and sex scandal first came to light in October, when Powell, 43, a self-described former escort, detailed the recruiting parties in the book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.” According to Powell, from 2010 to 2014, Andre McGee, a former Louisville graduate assistant and later director of basketball operations, paid her roughly $ 10,000 to supply dancers and escorts to parties that occurred inside Billy Minardi Hall, the on-campus dorm that houses basketball players and other athletes.
Those parties, Powell said, were primarily designed to lure basketball recruits to the Louisville program.
A person familiar with the NCAA enforcement process told Outside the Lines that, based on the statements from the three players to the NCAA, the Louisville program might have violated NCAA rules on impermissible benefits to players and/or shown a lack of institutional control. “If you’ve got three [recruits], that’s a slam dunk” to put together a case, the source said. “That’s the enforcement staff’s dream.”
Both sources spoke to Outside the Lines on the condition of anonymity, citing the on-going NCAA investigation.
In October, five former University of Louisville basketball players and recruits told Outside the Lines that they attended the recruiting parties. One former recruit, who went on to play at Louisville, said that he had sex with a dancer after McGee paid her.
Another recruit, who ultimately signed to play elsewhere, said of the parties: “I knew they weren’t college girls. It was crazy. It was like I was in a strip club.”
It’s not clear whether any of those five players have spoken to NCAA investigators.
The three recruits who met with NCAA investigators also provided information about the amount of money they were given by McGee at the parties to tip the dancers who stripped, the source close to the investigation said.
“It’s a pathetic story,” the source said. “McGee gave the players a stack of dollar bills ranging from $ 200 to $ 500. Everybody in the room got the money — the recruits and the current members of the team. Not only that, but McGee himself had his own stack of dollar bills. If this guy’s spending $ 2,000 to $ 3,000 on a recruiting weekend, where’s this money coming from?”
Outside the Lines spoke briefly this month with McGee in Kansas City, where he is working as a driver for the car service Uber.
When asked where the money came from to pay for the recruiting parties, McGee responded by saying, “You can talk to my lawyer for any questions.”
When asked if there was anything he wanted to say to clear his name, McGee added: “My name will be cleared. I just need you to talk to my lawyer.”
McGee’s Louisville-based attorney, Scott Cox, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, athletic director Tom Jurich and school president James R. Ramsey have declined to be interviewed by Outside the Lines.
On Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Dana O’Neil that Pitino will be interviewed by the NCAA in April. Pitino has repeatedly said he knew nothing about the parties with strippers and escorts.
“I can’t find one person, not one, that knew anything about it,” a visibly angry Pitino said in January.
During that same media session, Pitino said he was “pissed off at ESPN” for giving Powell a forum. He went on to acknowledge McGee’s apparent involvement.
“Did one person do some scurrilous things? I believe so. What I know now, I believe so,” Pitino said.
In early February, the University of Louisville self-imposed a one-year postseason ban, preventing this season’s Cardinals team from playing in the NCAA tournament. Ramsey, the university president, acknowledged at the time that it was “reasonable to conclude [NCAA] violations have occurred in the past.”
Even so, Pitino has questioned several elements of Powell’s story, including the amount of money she says McGee provided to dancers and escorts and whether Powell even wrote the journals that formed the foundation of her book.
“Rick made it personal,” Powell said in an interview this week for Outside the Lines. “I may not have come from the same side of the tracks that you come from, but only thing that makes us different is money.”
Pitino is far from alone in questioning Powell’s story.
Twelve plaintiffs have signed onto a civil lawsuit filed against Powell in Jefferson County, Kentucky, Circuit Court. The complaint names Powell, her publisher, Indianapolis Business Journal Book Publishing and the book’s author, former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dick Cady, as defendants.
Six women suing Powell appear in a photo in Powell’s book. The photo was used without the women’s permission, said Nader Shunnarah, the attorney for the plaintiffs. Another plaintiff, a Louisville barber, claims Powell lied in the book when she indicated his barbershop was the place she had met Paul Puryear, the man who Powell said had introduced her to Andre McGee.
“We believe there was dancing, and possibly stripping, but I can tell you that we have six women who deny that there was prostitution,” Shunnarah said.
“I hired [Powell] for a few bachelor parties, and that’s it,” Puryear told Outside the Lines in October. When asked if he ever organized parties at Minardi Hall, Puryear said, “No, sir,” and hung up the phone.
Shunnarah said the barbershop where Powell claims she met Puryear didn’t even open until 2013, more than two years after Powell allegedly began supplying dancers and escorts to the University of Louisville.
Powell’s attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case. A hearing is scheduled for March 30.
The University of Louisville police continue to investigate the case, according to a school spokesperson.
Though Powell has yet to speak with police, she and her attorney, Larry Wilder, did meet Monday for a second time with NCAA investigators.
“They’ve spent a lot of time trying to, I think, discern who provided the funds to pay for the parties,” Wilder said, when asked about the focus of NCAA investigators. “I think that they conclude, much like Ms. Powell has said, that certainly Mr. McGee did not have the financial wherewithal to fund these events that were taking place in Minardi Hall.”
When asked about the degree to which Pitino has taken responsibility for the issues within his program, the source with knowledge of the NCAA investigation told ESPN: “He’s not accepting any responsibility over several years. This is not a guy who is turning his head to academic fraud; this is much worse than that. If any other coach was connected to this story, by now he’d have already been fired.”
Producer Caitlin Stanco of ESPN’s Enterprise and Investigative Unit contributed to this report.