The other BYU ‘boosters’ in the Nick Emery NCAA case: a CEO, an LDS filmmaker and a former Cougar athlete

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU Guard Nick Emery, at BYU, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.

One day in October 2016, Brigham Young University basketball player Nick Emery found $200 in his locker.

The money, according to investigative documents, came from Keith Nellesen, one of the founders of the home technology firm Vivint and the former or current chief executive of multiple other companies. Nellesen, who also was a season ticket holder for four BYU teams, would later say Emery’s basketball shoes were so worn they had holes in the bottom.

The NCAA, which governs college athletics, wasn’t touched by the gesture. Nellesen is one of four boosters identified in documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune that shed new light on a case that includes foreign travel, a car, getaways and golf outings — all of which cost the BYU men’s basketball team 47 wins over two seasons and garnered other penalties.

Many of the new documents discuss a booster whose name has already been reported — Brandon Tyndall, once a member of the donor group called the Cougar Club and whose family owns the Draper-based Fun For Less Tours. Records show how Emery and his family repaid about $10,000 in travel and bought from Tyndall the car that Emery had been driving — but only after BYU and the NCAA started investigating. As part of its sanctions, BYU agreed to disassociate with Tyndall.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Producer Brant Anderson, director Jared Hess and producer Dave Hunter, at the premiere of "Don Verdean" at Eccles Theater, at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

Two other boosters named in the documents, Latter-day Saint movie producer Dave Hunter and businessman and former BYU track athlete Jeff Smith, contended the NCAA misrepresented their roles.

“To even have your name mentioned,” Smith said in a phone interview Thursday, “makes me sick to my stomach, because I’m trying to help the university and not hurt it. I mentor lots of kids there and try to help out and spend hours of my time to help the university.”

Tyndall, Nellesen and Hunter did not return messages seeking comment.

Emery served a nine-game suspension last season for having received the benefits. He is eligible to play one more season for the Cougars.

‘I welcomed offers of help’

The records obtained by The Tribune include a letter Emery wrote to the NCAA seeking his reinstatement to play basketball. That letter was dated April 6, 2018.

“Over the last 18 months,” Emery wrote, “I have experienced the worst period of my life.”

He went on to describe the challenges he also has written about on his blog, including getting a divorce and undergoing mental health counseling. In the letter, Emery acknowledged he knew the rules regulating boosters and benefits.

He also complained that his former in-laws had waged a campaign against him by reporting the NCAA violations to BYU and making accusations about his personal behavior to the school’s the Honor Code Office. BYU is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Students must abstain from premarital sex, alcohol, drugs and heed other rules that comply with the Utah-based faith’s teachings. (About five months before the letter, Emery announced the Honor Code Office had cleared him of wrongdoing.)

Emery wrote in his letter that, as he was getting divorced, his attorney advised him not to remove money from the account he shared with his then-wife. That put Emery in a financial bind.

“I welcomed offers of help,” he wrote to the NCAA.

BYU guard Nick Emery (4) bows his head after a foul during the team's NCAA college basketball game against Utah Valley on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Provo, Utah. Utah Valley won 114-101. (Sammy Jo Hester/The Daily Herald via AP)

The documents obtained by The Tribune show how BYU and the NCAA delved into the organization’s thick rule book to determine what violations might have been committed. Over the decades, some have complained those rules penalize collegiate athletes who take a few hundred dollars while coaches and campuses make millions off those players’ talents.

The records also reveal how some of what the NCAA deemed impermissible benefits began arriving before Emery’s marriage dissolved.

[Click here to read excerpts from the BYU and NCAA findings.]

BYU is appealing its punishment to the NCAA, asking it to reinstate the 47 wins the school was ordered to vacate. Athletic department spokesman Kyle Chilton declined to comment Friday, citing the appeal.

Nick Emery’s older brother, Jackson Emery, who also played basketball at BYU and is discussed in the documents, sent The Tribune an email Thursday on behalf of his family. He said that his family addressed with the NCAA the issues in the reports.

“Nick owned up to the wrongdoings on his end and we provided documentation, plus reasons, to the other items we felt needed a more fair explanation,” Jackson Emery wrote.

“Nick has completed every requirement asked of him by the NCAA to renew and maintain his eligibility,” the email added. “As he stated in December after fielding questions from the media, his intent is ... to work hard and focus on moving forward.”

Golfing buddies

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Keith Nellesen on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

Jackson Emery introduced Nick to Nellesen in 2011, according to the documents. The younger Emery and Nellesen golfed together. It was during one of those outings Nellesen introduced Nick Emery to Hunter.

Hunter has produced such Mormon movies as “Church Ball” and “Singles Ward.” Nick Emery would go on to be a guard on the Lone Peak High School team in Highland that was dubbed national champions. After high school, he went on a Latter-day Saint mission to Germany — the same country where Hunter served a mission.

After returning from Germany, Emery worked for Nellesen’s company, NUVI, the records say.

Both Hunter and Nellesen took Emery to tee off at Riverside Country Club, not far from BYU’s campus and where the Provo River flows between holes. Hunter and Nellesen paid Emery’s golf fees, according to documents.

That became a problem beginning in August 2015. By then, Emery was enrolled at BYU to play for the basketball team. The rounds continued for about two years. Nellesen bought Emery $240 worth of golf fees and country club meals, investigators later concluded. For Hunter, it was $800 for Emery’s golf fees and meals.

In the case of Hunter, he and Emery didn’t realize there was a problem. They didn’t think Hunter was a booster. Under NCAA rules, the term can be applied to a range of people who represent the university's interests. Although Hunter had attended BYU, he didn’t think he had done something to advance the institution.

But in examining athletic department records, investigators found Hunter made a $650 donation in 2005. Hunter, in speaking with investigators, did not recall the gift.

The records were vague. One assumption was Hunter gave the money during a charity auction or a similar type of fundraiser. Another theory was Hunter’s company donated copies of his movies, which wound up in swag bags at an athletic department event.

In any case, that $650 was enough to make Hunter a booster, BYU and the NCAA concluded.

“I was shocked to hear BYU had classified Dave as a booster,” Emery wrote, “and that our golf outings were an issue.”

In BYU’s own request to have the NCAA reinstate Emery, the university described Hunter as having attended a Cougar athletic event only once or twice.

“Despite his status as a BYU alum,” the school wrote, “he is adamant that he is not a BYU supporter or fan.”

What went on between Smith and Emery also has some ambiguity. Smith ran track at BYU, graduated in 1988 and became an entrepreneur. As of May 2018, Smith had donated $310,000 in athletic scholarships, according to a summary the NCAA prepared. Smith also participated in a mentorship program and was assigned to mentor Emery in September or October 2015.

In fall 2016, according to that summary, Emery told Smith he was hoping to take his then-wife to Park City during a weekend break in the basketball season. Smith directed Emery to a KSL Classifieds listing for a rental at Sundial Lodge at in the Canyons Village of Park City Mountain Resort.

“Smith acknowledged,” the NCAA summary said, “that he passed along to N. Emery a rental listing owned by one of his former employees, but denied involvement in arranging or paying for the stay.”

No one could figure out who did pay for what the NCAA determined to be a $720 stay. Emery thought his ex-wife paid, but the NCAA couldn’t find any record of that in the couple’s bank records. The resort said the unit was booked through Expedia, and it didn’t have the name of the person who paid.

The NCAA enforcement staff concluded Smith arranged for the couple to stay at the lodge for free, though the staff didn’t go so far as to accuse Smith of paying for the lodging. Smith maintains he only pointed Nick Emery toward the listing.

“I'm really surprised they couldn't find out who paid for it,” Smith said Thursday. “It seems kind of crazy to me. I’m surprised. That's why I thought I'd be fine. Because, ‘Oh they'll look and find someone else paid for it.’”

As a former college athlete, Smith knew what boosters could and couldn’t do. He said he once had a BYU athlete call him when his car broke down, wanting a ride. Smith knew he couldn’t help him.

“I'm very biased of the NCAA,” Smith said. “I'm not quite sure what they stand for really anymore.”

‘I considered Brandon family’

FILE - In this March 21, 2013, file photo taken with a fisheye lens, the NCAA logo is displayed at mid-court before Albany's practice for a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

If Emery and BYU had arguments that only technical violations occurred with Hunter and Smith, there was no such defense for Nellesen.

“I was aware Keith was a BYU ‘booster,’” Emery wrote.

It’s unclear whether Emery needed money for new shoes. A “summary disposition” prepared by the NCAA said while Nellesen was telling Emery to get new shoes, the basketball player had told Nellesen he loved his old ones because they had molded to his feet.

In its public report on the violations, released Nov. 9, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions said it was “particularly troubled that one of the boosters had access to the men’s basketball locker room and used that access to provide the student-athlete with cash.”

As for the travel Tyndall and his company provided, Emery said he met Tyndall while skeet shooting in 2017. In the spring of that year, before Emery and his wife split, Tyndall and Fun For Less Tours paid for the couple to take a trip to New York and then Germany. The couple split after they returned.

Tyndall or his company then paid for Emery to travel to Los Angeles, Toronto, and Austin, Texas, to go to amusement parks, concerts and other events, according to the records. Social media and other documents show Tyndall accompanied the basketball player on at least some of the trips. Emery was also driving the Jetta leased by Tyndall.

Emery’s former wife and father-in-law gave an interview to BYU staff Aug. 1. Emery was notified three days later.

On Aug. 7, Jackson Emery wrote two checks, totaling $7,529.98, to Fun For Less, according to copies of the canceled checks. He wrote a third check, for $875.93, to Tyndall.

Also on Aug. 7, Tyndall requested a quote from Volkswagen asking how much it would cost to buy the Jetta, records show. Emery’s parents bought the car later that month.

In his letter to the NCAA, Nick Emery explained that he always intended to pay back the travel expenses. He also said that his car broke down and Tyndall let him drive the Jetta. He intended to pay it all back, Emery wrote, but the financial trouble caused by his divorce interfered with that.

“I never intended for Brandon to pay for vacation expenses,” Emery wrote, “the car or any expenses related to the car — we agreed I would reimburse him fully as soon as I had access to money. It’s important to note that I had several thousands of dollars (enough to cover all of these expenses) that I could not access until my divorce was final, since all assets were frozen.

“However, after it was clear the divorce wouldn’t be final for longer than I expected, I decided to ask my family for help. My brother then reimbursed Brandon for the trip and existing car expenses and we transferred the car into my parents’ names. Brandon and I had become close friends and I considered Brandon family. Therefore, it never crossed my mind that Brandon was a booster.”

Impermissible benefit

The NCAA reinstated Emery to play basketball in June 2018 with the agreement he would be suspended for nine games. But the association was not swayed by the turmoil that had been in his life.

BYU tried to argue the most expensive benefits, those from Tyndall, came during a four-month period when Emery’s marriage was ending, and the NCAA should consider that a mitigating factor. Yet the NCAA’s “summary disposition” responds by stating: “The enforcement staff does not agree those facts warrant a lower penalty range.”

There was one other “impermissible benefit” listed in the documents — a 2017 Valentine’s Day dinner for Emery and his then-wife at La Jolla Groves restaurant in Provo. When the couple went to pay, staff told them “the bill had been taken care of,” according to a summary written by BYU.

The cost: $60. The documents do not say who paid.

Although the public report from the NCAA did not identify the four boosters, the boosters’ descriptions match those in the new documents reviewed by The Tribune. However, it appears that the public report had an error.

It said men matching the description of Nellesen and Hunter were to receive letters warning them that further violations of NCAA rules could result in the school having to sever any and all ties they have with BYU athletics. Smith was to receive a letter advising him that he, too, is a representative of BYU’s interests, thus considered a booster.

The new documents show the public report confused the letters to be issued to Hunter and Smith. Smith was to receive the warning letter, and Hunter was to get a letter specifying him as a booster.

In any case, while BYU no longer can associate with Tyndall, the athletic department is still free to take money or other NCAA-compliant gifts from Nellesen, Hunter and Smith.