Queering the pitch and turning the ‘beautiful game’ ugly – two football agents and a football coach are sentenced for corruption

By 21st January 2020 General News

Introduction

Last Friday’s sentencing hearing for two agents and a coach at Southwark Crown Court marked the conclusion of a case which must have been painful viewing for all those engaged with football throughout the country.

The three defendants were:

  • Football agent, Giuseppe Pagliara (‘Mr Pagliara’);
  • Football agent, Dax Price (‘Mr Price’); and
  • Former Barnsley Football Club Assistant Head Coach, Tommy Wright (‘Mr Wright’).

The sentencing hearing was in relation to their convictions for offences under the Bribery Act 2010 (‘BA 2010’), following their 9-week trial at Southwark Crown Court in the Autumn of 2019.

The case stemmed from the investigation by The Daily Telegraph (‘the Paper’) into alleged corruption in English Football back in September 2016. Readers may recall Sam Allardyce, the England manager back in 2016 resigning almost as soon as he had started in the job, after 67 days, on the back of the investigation.

It is worth recalling, at the outset of this article, that third party ownership was banned by the Football Association (‘The FA’) at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. This was largely due to the fall-out on the back of the saga surrounding West Ham’s signing of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, which will still be fresh in the minds of football fans everywhere.[1]

Background

An undercover journalist from the Paper pretended to be a representative from a fake sports management company called ‘Meiran’, and met with Mr Pagliara and Mr Price. Both men discussed corruption in football and their role in it, making it clear that they had no issue with going against the strict FA regulations.[2] The pair were forthcoming with their references to extremely high profile individuals at Premiership and Championship level, who took bungs and bribes.

They both suggested schemes including bribing players to become their agents, and ways for the sports management company to go against the ban on third party ownership for profit. They introduced the journalist to Mr Wright and encouraged the reporter to pay him for his part in their illegal schemes. Mr Wright received an initial bribe of £5,000 in return for revealing sensitive information about Barnsley FC’s players, and he encouraged some of the players to appoint the Mr Pagliara and Mr Price as their agents.[3]

The reporter’s investigation generated a considerable amount of evidence over a number of meetings and telephone calls with both agents and Mr Wright. These were used by the prosecution in court. Furthermore, the prosecution called evidence from the FA, along with a number of professional football players.

Mr Wright was found guilty of two counts of requesting, agreeing to receive, or accepting a financial advantage or other advantage, contrary to section 2 of the BA 2010.

Mr Price was found guilty of two counts of offering, promising, or giving a financial or other advantage to another person, contrary to section 1 of the BA 2010.

Mr Pagliara was found guilty of two counts of offering, promising or giving a financial or other advantage to another person, contrary to section 1 of the BA 2010.

The Law

An offence under section 1 of the BA 2010 can be committed in two main ways:

  • If “P offers, promises or gives a financial or other advantage to another person” and “ P intends the advantage to induce a person to perform improperly a relevant function or activity, or, to reward a person for the improper performance of such a function or activity.
  • Where P offers, promises or gives a financial or other advantage to another person, and P knows or believes that the acceptance of the advantage would itself constitute the improper performance of a relevant function or activity.

An offence under section 2 of the BA 2010 can be committed in a number of different ways:

  • Where R requests, agrees to receive or accepts a financial or other advantage intending that, in consequence, a relevant function or activity should be performed improperly (whether by R or another person).
  • Where R requests, agrees to receive or accepts a financial or other advantage, and the request, agreement or acceptance itself constitutes the improper performance by R of a relevant function or activity.
  • Where R requests, agrees to receive or accepts a financial or other advantage as a reward for the improper performance (whether by R or another person) of a relevant function or activity.”
  • Where, in anticipation of or in consequence of R requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting a financial or other advantage, a relevant function or activity is performed improperly by R, or by another person at R’s request or with R’s assent or acquiescence.

The maximum sentence for either the section 1 or section 2 offence is 10 years imprisonment.

The sentence

In relation to the sentencing guidelines[4], the Judge decided that both Mr Pagliara and Mr Price fell into higher culpability bracket. In relation to Mr Wright it was decided that he was medium culpability.

It was agreed by all parties that, in terms of harm caused by the defendants, it was category 3 or 4 within the sentencing guidelines. This left the Judge looking at a range of 18 months’ to 4 years’ custody for each of the defendants.

The Judge then decided that the starting point for Mr Pagliara was 2 years custody. For Mr Price, 21 months custody and for Mr Wright, 18 months custody.

For Mr Pagliara the mitigating factors included: no previous convictions; delay between name being published (2016) and the trial (Autumn 2019); and, most importantly, that he is the primary carer for his wife who faces disability.

For Mr Price the mitigating factors included: no previous convictions; delay between name being published (2016) and the trial (Autumn 2019); and, most importantly, the fact that he is going through a bitter divorce and the impact that going to prison would have on both his children (aged 10 and 15).

For Mr Wright the mitigating factors included: no previous convictions; exemplary character references setting out passion for his family, church and football; and delay between name being published (2016) and the trial (Autumn 2019). He had also sent a letter to the Judge setting out his deep regret, shame, and embarrassment caused to his family, church, and football in the UK.

The sentences they received were as follows:

  • Mr Pagliara: 2-year custodial sentences concurrently for each of the two counts, suspended for 2 years along with 300 hours community order. Furthermore, an electronically tagged curfew was placed on him from 19:00 to 7:00, to last for 4 months.
  • Mr Price: 18 months custodial sentences concurrently for each of the two counts, suspended for 18 months, along with 250 hours community order. Furthermore, an electronically tagged curfew was placed on him from 18:00 to 6:00 to last for 3 months.
  • Mr Wright: 12 months custodial sentences concurrently for each of the two counts, suspended for 12 months. £5000 to be paid back to Daily Telegraph and £12,000 costs within 12 months.

Conclusion

No doubt many people involved in football will be glad that this sorry episode has ended. It serves as a reminder to all those involved in sport that any form of bribery is simply not tolerated. In this case, with the careers of the two agents basically finished and a coach’s career hanging by a thread (it will be interesting to see what the FA’s stance will be) it is likely that the three defendants are questioning on what basis they thought that such conduct was ever going to be worth the obvious risk, which came to pass, that they would be found out – not to mention reflecting on the harm that their lack of integrity has done to the ‘beautiful game’.

[1] Bill Wilson, BBN News, “Football’s third-party ownership rule explained”. 27.09.2016
[2] CPS, “Former Barnsley FC Assistant Head Coach and two corrupt football agents guilty of bribery”. 16.12.2019
[3] CPS, “Former Barnsley FC Assistant Head Coach and two corrupt football agents guilty of bribery”. 16.12.2019
[4] Sentencing Council, sentencing guidelines “Bribery”. Effective from 1 October 2014.

Leave a Reply