ANDERSON, S.C. (WSPA) — The owners of an Anderson-based basketball academy are now facing federal charges after they lied while applying to get visas, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Michael Rawson and his wife, Brenda Rawson, ran 22ft Academy, a basketball program that allowed high school aged athletes, primarily from Europe, to live and train in the United States.
The academy was known to help players go “pro” while getting a “Christian education.”
The Rawsons are charged with defrauding the United States.
According to court documents, the Rawsons lied, saying they were affiliated with a Dutch company in order to obtain an L-1A intercompany transferee/ executive manager visa to work in Greenville, S.C.
Former 22ft Academy player Mamoudou Diarra told 7 News on Wednesday that he was not surprised to learn of the indictments.
According to Diarra, Rawson put him and his teammates up in a garage on the back of Rawson’s Concord Road property.
He said bunk beds piled on top of each other and everyone was forced to take showers in cold water.
“I could not call my parents and tell them I was living in a garage. They would be freaking out,” Diarra said in a phone interview.
Diarra, now a small forward at the University of Cincinnati, also told 7 News that he lived out of his suitcase because there was nowhere to put his clothes.
He was supposed to take classes at Anderson Christian School, but after getting to the city, he said Dawson forced him to take online classes, going against the stipulations of his visa.
“It was crazy. It was just some nightmare.”
The ‘basketball house’ is located in the jurisdiction of the Anderson County District 4 Councilman Tom Allen. The councilman said there were red flags, although no one knew the extent of the problems.
“Nobody seemed to know all of the other things that were going on, underneath the surface,” Allen said.
Allen proceeded to call the whole program a “scam.”
“It seems to be the students that are the ones hurting right now.”
Michael Rawson’s attorney, Matthew Kappel of Greenville, declined to comment on the charges.
To read the full indictment, click here: Rawson indictment