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If security footage refutes FBI evidence, it’s time for USC’s Melton to be allowed to play

USC v Baylor

TULSA, OK - MARCH 19: De’Anthony Melton #22 of the USC Trojans reacts against the Baylor Bears during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at BOK Center on March 19, 2017 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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There appears to be some discrepancies between the FBI complaint and security camera footage viewed by the Los Angeles Times in key details regarding the investigation of former USC assistant coach Tony Bland, a runner named Christian Dawkins and a relative of De’Anthony Melton, a USC player that has been forced to sit out the first five games of USC’s season.

An LA Times reporter was able to view a copy of the security footage that clearly illustrates a departure from the account detailed in the FBI complaint. According to the FBI’s version of events, an undercover agent posing as a financial advisor provided, prior to their meeting, Dawkins with $5,000 that was earmarked for a family friend of Melton’s, identified by the Times as Dave Elliot, and that Elliot received the money. That meeting and that payment was allegedly facilitated by Bland.

But according to the security camera footage of the hotel where the meeting took place, that is not what happened. Based on the Times’ summary of the video -- they were allowed to view it but not allowed to make a copy -- the money is provided to Dawkins at the meeting, and, more importantly, Dawkins is the one that left the hotel with the envelope of cash in his pocket before getting into an SUV driven by another defendant and putting the envelope in-between the seats.

From a legal perspective, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. It certainly is not proof that the money never made it to Elliot, but the burden is on the government to prove that Elliot did, not vice versa. This video does not necessarily support that timeline. And if there are questions about the accuracy of the story the FBI is putting forward in this part of the complaint, should that raise concerns about the accuracy of the other parts of the complaint as well?

The larger issue at play here -- at least for a website dedicated to the coverage of college hoops -- is that Melton should be allowed to return to the floor.

This is documented evidence that contradicts what the FBI is saying happened. Melton is forced to sit out because USC is uncertain of current eligibility status. If, as alleged in the FBI complaint, Elliott was given $5,000 to ensure that Melton wound up investing with Dawkins, that breaks the NCAA’s amateurism by-laws. But this new evidence contradicts that theory.

And that’s before you consider the fact that Melton may not have known or endorsed what Elliott was trying to do. Melton has reportedly met with the federal prosecutors. His mother and Elliott have as well. The LA Times reported last week that Melton turned over bank records and phone data to the university in an effort to clear his name.

Meeting with potential financial advisors is not an NCAA violation. Discussing the plan for a player entering the NBA Draft is not an NCAA violation. The NCAA violation would be if the player, or someone close to him, accepted a bribe -- a retainer -- to ensure that player would invest with that financial advisor when he does turn pro.

If the video viewed by the LA Times truly does refute the claims made by the FBI in their complaint, then it is time to stop punishing Melton. He’s missed five games and two scrimmages already.

Let him play.