Portis, Horn among 10 former NFL players facing U.S. fraud charges
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal authorities on Thursday charged 10 former National Football League players for allegedly defrauding a healthcare program of more than $3.4 million by filing false claims for hyperbaric oxygen chambers and other expensive medical equipment.
Former Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, 38, and former Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, 38, were among those charged by the U.S. Justice Department.
Portis, who played nine seasons with Washington and the Denver Broncos, declared bankruptcy in 2015, court records show. He sued the NFL in 2013, claiming the league failed to tell him he risked brain damage.
U.S. authorities also said they plan to file charges against Joe Horn, 47, who at one point held the New Orleans Saints’ record for touchdown catches.
Brian Benczkowski, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the former players filed false claims for expensive equipment like oxygen chambers, cryotherapy machines, and electromagnetic therapy devices designed to be used on horses.
Those devices, which typically cost up to $50,000, were actually never purchased, he said.
Ringleaders of the scheme took kickbacks or bribes of up to $10,000 from other former players to help carry it out, Benczkowski said.
“By defrauding the plan and treating it like their own personal ATM machine, sadly, the defendants placed the plan’s tax-exempt status at risk,” he said at a news conference.
A NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The NFL Players’ Association declined to comment.
Researchers say former football players have an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems, related to the grueling physical contact inherent in the sport and the weight they gain to play it.
The NFL reached a settlement in 2017 to help cover medical costs for former players who suffer from neurological problems believed to be caused by concussions sustained during their careers.
The alleged scheme targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which was set up in 2006 to help retired players cover medical expenses and currently has about $800 million in assets. No current NFL players are believed to be involved in the scheme, Benczkowski said.
Rogers, who played 10 seasons for Washington, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, was arrested on Thursday morning, officials said. Three other former players – Robert McCune, John Eubanks and Ceandris Brown – also were arrested, while the other six defendants surrendered voluntarily.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey in Washington; Aditional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis