Last Friday, former Penn men’s basketball star and coach Jerome Allen testified in Miami federal court that he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Philip Esformes, a Miami Beach executive and father of a current Wharton senior.
Between 2013 and 2015, Esformes bribed Allen to recruit his son, Morris Esformes, as a basketball player in order to facilitate his acceptance to Wharton. In October 2018, Allen pleaded guilty to bribery charges in a federal district court, admitting that he had accepted money from Esformes to advocate for his son.
“We were extremely disappointed to learn that Jerome Allen, former head men's basketball coach at Penn, accepted payments to recruit a potential student-athlete to Penn and concealed that conduct from the Athletic Department and University administration,” Penn’s Associate Athletic Director of Administration and Strategic Communications Kevin Bonner said in a statement. “The University has been cooperating fully with the government and the NCAA so that the matter is appropriately redressed.”
The testimony also brought to light new allegations involving a former assistant coach.
Allen testified that Ira Bowman, former Penn men's basketball assistant coach, was aware of and involved with the bribery scheme, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. After Allen was fired in March 2015, Esformes was allegedly worried about his son’s position on the team, Law360.com reported. In response, Allen created an additional account for Esformes to wire money to, providing Bowman with a debit card to access the account.
Penn Athletics declined to comment on specifics, instead sending the DP the same statement it had sent earlier, with one sentence added. The full statement, including the additional sentence, had been sent to the Inquirer as well.
“Until Jerome’s testimony last week, we also were unaware that former assistant men’s basketball coach Ira Bowman had any relevant knowledge of the matter,” read the addition to Penn's statement.
Esformes is facing charges of fraud after obtaining $1 billion in a Medicare-related scheme. A portion of this money was used to bribe Allen, who is serving as a government witness in Esformes’ trial.
“I accepted the money to help Morris Esformes get into the school,” Allen testified in Miami federal court, the Miami Herald reported. “I got his son into Penn; I got his son into Wharton. None of that would have happened without me.”
Allen acknowledged that without the bribes, Esformes’ son would not have made the basketball team. In 2013, Allen made several trips to Miami to meet with Esformes and his son. Allen received $10,000 in cash, hidden in a brown envelope, from Esformes each time.
Allen watched Esformes’ son play several times. Despite the son’s lack of qualifications as a player, Allen agreed to “recruit” him after a bit of convincing from Esformes.
“He said to me, ‘we would be family for life,’” Allen testified.
In the end, Morris Esformes was granted admission to Wharton in 2015. However, he never appeared on the basketball team’s roster or played on the team. He is now a senior.
“I lied [to the school’s admissions office],” Allen said, according to the Miami Herald. “I knew that if it got back to the University of Pennsylvania what I was doing for Morris Esformes, I would be fired.”
Overall, Esformes paid Allen more than $74,000 in cash bribes and $220,000 in wire transfers over a period that extended from 2013 to 2015.
In October, Allen, who currently works as an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, admitted to having accepted $18,000 in bribes from Esformes. Allen had to repay this sum and was additionally fined over $200,000 by the federal government. He was also suspended from his role with the Celtics for a period of two weeks. He has not yet been sentenced.
In July 2018, Bloomberg broke the story that Allen, originally labeled as “Coach 2,” had allegedly received $74,000 in bribes from Esformes. Penn hired Chuck Smrt of The Compliance Group, an outside consultant, to oversee its internal investigation of Allen’s conduct. Smrt specifically looked into whether Allen broke any NCAA rules.
Last month, Athletics Director M. Grace Calhoun indicated that Penn was unable to comment on the investigation until after Allen's testimony.
“Penn thoroughly reviewed everything surrounding the situation, and as soon as we're at liberty to proceed forward, after that part of the trial at least, we will," Calhoun said.
Now that Allen has testified, it should soon become clear what Penn’s findings were. Allen’s conduct could have implications on Penn’s ability to recruit in the future in the form of self-imposed, NCAA, or Ivy League sanctions. However, there could also be no further action from either Penn or the NCAA.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to attribute reporting to the Miami Herald, as well as information on Ira Bowman.
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