The basketball recruiting scandal at Paterson (N.J.) Eastside is not going away anytime soon.
Over a month after it was reported that state criminal investigators were looking into recruiting improprieties, federal immigration authorities have now reportedly opened a new front in the investigation.
According to what multiple people inside the district have told NJ.com, officials from New Jersey’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are looking closely at the pipeline of international players who fed the school’s boys and girls basketball teams over the past six years.
Unlike other agencies investigating Eastside, sources told NJ.com, ICE is focusing on how the players arrived in New Jersey, who facilitated their arrival and when the process began.
ICE is but the latest agency actively investigating the scandal, as the state’s Attorney General, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency are also involved.
The inquiry comes four months after the NJ.com began releasing the reports of the international pipeline that had been going through both the Eastside boys and girls programs since at least 2011.
“This means the federal government understands there’s human trafficking going on here,” Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-based immigration attorney who has followed the Eastside case, told NJ.com. “This is nothing short of human trafficking.
“It might be disguised under the blanket of basketball players, but the reality is when you’re bringing people from other parts of the world to the United States for purposes other than what are legitimate, you are committing human trafficking.”
In April, in the wake of a 250-page, taxpayer-funded report, previously suspended boys basketball coach Juan Griles was fired by the Paterson Board of Education along with assistant coach Alberto Maldonado. Also fired was athletic director Gregory Cooper, while girls basketball coach Ray Lyde Jr. was suspended for at least one year. Secretary Patty Granados was also fired from her part-time work, while Eastside principal Karen Johnson decided to retire. There is no clear tie between Johnson’s retirement and the report.
According to NJ.com, at least eight Eastside players have been brought to Paterson from Nigeria and Paraguay since 2011, with many living with coaches and others connected to the basketball programs in some form. This was all done despite the district’s inability to issue proper immigration documents for foreign students, which placed the athletes at risk of being deported.
Alvin Phillips, spokesman for ICE in New Jersey, told NJ.com he could not “confirm or deny an investigation into this matter.”
“We take all allegations of abuse of our visa immigration system seriously,” Phillips said. “We’ll take proper procedures accordingly.”
You can read the entirety of NJ.com’s latest on the seemingly wide-reaching scandal here.