Former Penn Basketball Coach Takes the Stand, Admits Accepting Bribes

On March 8, 2019, former head basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Jerome Allen, took the stand as a government witness in the trial of Philip Esformes. Allen, now with the Boston Celtics, previously plead guilty, in October 2019, to a bribery-related money laundering charge. Allen testified against Esformes, a healthcare executive, claiming that Esformes bribed him with $300,000 in bags full of cash and wire transfers so Esformes’ son, Morris, could qualify as a “recruited” basketball player, which would help him get accepted to the University of Pennsylvania and its exclusive Wharton School of Business.

Currently, Esformes is on trial for masterminding one of the nation’s largest Medicare-related schemes. In total, through the scheme, it is alleged that Esformes defrauded $1 billion. It is also alleged that a portion of this money was later used to bribe Allen. Allen testified, “I accepted the money to help Morris get into the school … I got his son into Penn; I got his son into Wharton. None of that would have happened without me.” According to Allen, Morris would not have qualified to play varsity basketball at Penn nor would he on the list of eligible high school recruits. However, during a series of trips, in 2013, Esformes flew Allen to Miami, had a limousine pick Allen up at the airport, and each time during their meetings, Esformes gave Allen $10,000 in cash, tucked into a brown envelope stuffed inside a plastic bag. Allen testified, “[h]e said to me, ‘we would be family for life.’”

While Allen was not impressed with Morris’ caliber of play, Allen agreed to Esformes’ arraignment. The arraignment was that Esformes would “take care” of Allen and Allen would ensure that Morris could play basketball at Penn and get into the Wharton School of Business. Allen admitted to lying to Penn about Morris’ qualifications and put him on the “recruited basketball player” list. Allen testified, “I knew that if it got back to the University of Pennsylvania what I was doing for Morris Esformes, I would be fired.” Allen further testified, “[h]e was good to me. He was good to my kids. He was good to my family, and I can’t say throughout the course of our exchanges that I had anything malicious to say about him until they got what they wanted and then all the communication stopped.”

Before trial, Esformes’ lawyer vehemently denied any bribery scheme, alleging that Morris was qualified, both academically and athletically, to get into Penn on his own merits. According to Esformes attorney, Esformes hired Allen when his son was a sophomore in high school to help him improve his game, “as many parents do when their kids show athletic promise.”

In the end, Morris, now a senior, was granted admission to Penn and the Wharton School of Business; however, he never appeared on the basketball team’s roster or played on the team. While Allen, who had coached the men’s basketball team since 2009, was forced to resign in March 2015 after several losing seasons. In a statement, Penn’s Associate Athletic Director of Administration and Strategic Communications, said, “[w]e 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, The University has been cooperating fully with the government and the NCAA so that the matter is appropriately redressed.”

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