April 12, 2011

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- In a somber, one-hour hearing inside the Schwartz Federal Building in downtown San Diego, eight defendants made their first appearances in the University of San Diego basketball game-fixing case detailed in a federal indictment unsealed on Monday. The defendants, dressed in identical, unmarked white jumpsuits, included Thaddeus Brown, 32, a former USD assistant coach, and Brandon Dowdy, 22, a former USD and UC-Riverside player, both of whom are charged with participating in a scheme in which at least two college basketball games were tainted by bribes. Former USD star Brandon Johnson, also named in the indictment, was arrested in Houston on April 9 and is expected to appear in federal court there this week.

The indictment alleges that an illegal sports-betting operation and the distribution of marijuana were somehow intertwined with the game-fixing conspiracy. Of the eight defendants in court on Tuesday, three -- Steve Goria, 32; Paul Thweni, 26; and Richard Garmo, 32 -- stand charged in all three areas of wrongdoing. Their appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Louisa Porter began exactly 24 hours after Goria was arrested following a two-hour SWAT-team standoff at his home in nearby Serra Mesa.

All eight defendants pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. Dowdy, a wispy former guard who played 13 games for USD in 2006-07 before transferring to UC-Riverside (where he played 55 games between 2008 and 2010), appeared dejected and embarrassed in court, with both thumbs alternately supporting his chin or pinching the top of his nose. His mother arrived midway through the proceeding and whispered to a reporter that she'd only learned of the matter the day before. "I'm shocked, definitely," she said, asking that her name be withheld. "This is totally out of character." She had never seen the other defendants before, she added, and Brandon had never mentioned them.

The morning's most emotional moment came when the defendant seated next to Dowdy, 34-year-old David Gates, who is charged with aiding in the collection of betting debts, wept openly as Judge Porter and a public defender reviewed his meager circumstances. According to a Pretrial Services report, Gates has been homeless for the last three months. Prosecutors cited his "two prior drug convictions, a DUI arrest, and several probation revocations" as reason for requesting an appearance bond. Gates is also a documented gang member.

The specifics of the alleged game-fixing conspiracy were not discussed at Tuesday's hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Chun declined to comment on those specifics. FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth declined to make investigating agents available to SI, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

In the morning's only light moment, Porter conceded that she is "not a sports person" before granting prosecutors' requests that Brown and Dowdy be prohibited from contacting "current NCAA Division I basketball players, or those who played last season" as a condition of their bond. Counsel for Brown and Dowdy had argued that that such a condition would violate the defendants' right to construct their own defense. Porter did not concur.

Porter scheduled detention hearings for Goria and Thweni (whose employment was described as "professional poker player") for later this week. Bond amounts were set between $35,000 and $100,000 for Dowdy, Brown, and the four other defendants present on Tuesday. A hearing was scheduled for May 20 before U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia to hear motions and set a trial date.

After the defendants were led out of court, Dowdy's brother Dennis described his family's reaction to the indictment as, "Shock. This is not him at all."

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