WASHINGTON — Former Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis and other retired NFL players have been charged with defrauding the NFL’s retiree health care benefits plan for more than $3 million, according to two indictments unsealed Thursday.
“Ten former NFL players allegedly committed a brazen, multi-million dollar fraud on a health care plan meant to help their former teammates and other retired players pay legitimate, out-of-pocket medical expenses,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement.
The former NFL players allegedly submitted phony health care claims seeking to be reimbursed for expensive medical equipment that was never purchased, typically about $40,000 to $50,000 per claim, court records show.
The equipment included hyperbaric oxygen chambers, ultrasound machines designed for a doctor’s office to conduct women’s health exams, and electromagnetic therapy devices for horses, prosecutors said.
The scheme, which lasted from June 2017 to December 2018, led to over $3.9 million in false and fraudulent claims, of which the plan paid out more than $3.4 million, prosecutors said in a news release.
In addition, some defendants got reimbursements from the plan or recruited other retired players to participate in the scheme in exchange for kickbacks and bribes, the indictments say. The claims relied on fabricated invoices, prescriptions and letters of medical necessity, prosecutors said.
Two former players, Robert McCune and Correll Buckhalter, even called the health benefits plan’s phone line and impersonated other players to check on the status of the claims, the release states.
CNN has reached out to the NFL, the named players and the NFL Players Association for comment. The NFL and the players union were aware of the charges before a Thursday morning news conference, Benczkowski said.
An attorney for Portis who has also represented other Redskins on legal matters said his client is innocent, according to The Washington Post.
“Clinton Portis had no knowledge that his participation in what he believed to be an NFL sanctioned medical reimbursement program was illegal,” Mark Dycio said. “He is completely taken aback by this indictment and will move forward with the process of clearing his good name and those of his fellow NFL alumni.”
Cigna alerted feds to potential fraud, prosecutor says
Health insurance company Cigna flagged anomalies in the types of claims being filed and referred the fraud to federal investigators, Benczkowski said.
Four former players were arrested and six agreed to turn themselves in, he said.
The defendants include:
- Portis, the former Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos running back;
- McCune, a former linebacker with the Redskins;
- John Eubanks, a former cornerback with the Redskins;
- Tamarick Vanover, a former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver;
- Ceandris “C.C.” Brown, a former Houston Texans safety;
- James Butler, a former New York Giants and St. Louis Rams safety;
- Fredrick Bennett, a former Houston Texans defensive back;
- Etric Pruitt, a former defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks;
- Carlos Rogers, a former Redskins and San Francisco 49ers cornerback;
- Buckhalter, a former Philadelphia Eagles running back.
In addition, the government plans to file criminal informations charging Joe Horn, the former New Orleans Saints wide receiver, and Donald “Reche” Caldwell, the former San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots wide receiver, with conspiracy, according to the news release.
McCune is charged with conspiracy, nine counts of wire fraud and nine counts of health care fraud. Eubanks, Vanover and Rogers are charged with conspiracy, two counts each of wire fraud and two counts each of health care fraud. Portis, Brown, Butler and Bennett are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and health care fraud. And Buckhalter and Pruitt are charged with one count each of conspiracy.
Portis, who reportedly earned more than $43.1 million over his nine-year career, was known for wearing colorful costumes, wigs and oversized sunglasses in media interviews. But after retiring, he filed for bankruptcy and became one of a startling number of former NFL players who go broke after their playing careers.
More than 20 FBI field offices across the country participated in the fraud investigation, from Miami to New Jersey to Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
The health care benefits plan was established as part of the 2006 collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association.
It is intended to provide tax-free reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by insurance for former NFL players, their wives and their dependents, prosecutors said. Each player can receive a maximum of $350,000 from the plan.