- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2019

Clinton Portis and four other former Washington Redskins are among 12 retired NFL players accused by federal prosecutors of submitting false medical claims to the league’s health care program for retired players.

Investigators say the scheme involved fraudulent invoices to the NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan for expensive medical equipment that the players never purchased.

Portis, a former standout Pro Bowl running back, was one of five players implicated in the scheme who played for the Redskins.

The indictment accuses the group of submitting phony insurance claims, which included an ultrasound machine used for women’s health examinations and electromagnetic therapy devices used to treat horses.

Each insurance submission amounted to $40,000 to $50,000, and a total of $3.9 million in fraudulent claims were submitted from June 2017 to June 2018, prosecutors said. All told, more than $3.4 million was paid out.

Ten former players were named in two indictments Thursday. Prosecutors said they also intend to charge Joe Horn and Donald “Reche” Caldwell.

In addition to Mr. Portis, charges were lodged against Carlos Rogers, Robert McCune, John Eubanks, Tamarick Vanover, Ceandris Brown, James Butler, Frederick Bennett, Correll Buckhalter and Etric Pruitt.

Portis, Rogers, McCune, Eubanks and Caldwell played for the Redskins at some point in their careers.

The players also fabricated supporting documentation, including phony invoices from medical supply companies, forged letters and prescriptions from doctors, prosecutors said.

Authorities say two of the men impersonated other players involved in the scheme when calling a telephone number provided by the plan to check on the status of claims.

“In each case, the forms submitted in support of the claim were completely fabricated,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in his announcement of the charges. “This included things like fake invoices from medical supply companies and forged letters and prescriptions from medical care providers.”

Federal prosecutors lodged the charges in two indictments brought in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Charges against the players include wire fraud, health care fraud and conspiracy. The conspiracy and wire fraud counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the health care fraud charges have a statutory maximum of 10 years.

The Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan was established in 2006 to offer tax-free reimbursement of medical expenses not covered by insurance. It was available to former players and their wives and dependents.

Mr. Benczkowski said the defendants’ actions put “the integrity of the plan” at risk.

“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 and threatened the ability of law-abiding players to continue to receive tax-free reimbursements for legitimate medical expenses,” he said.

As for Portis’ exact involvement, prosecutors accuse the running back of participating in the scheme. The indictment alleges Portis submitted and received reimbursements for medical equipment.

Portis, through attorney Mark Dycio, said he was innocent. Mr. Dycio issued a statement to multiple outlets saying the running back had no knowledge that the scheme was illegal.

“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,” Mr. Dycio said.

Portis, a two-time Pro Bowler, spent seven seasons with the Redskins after the team acquired him in a trade from the Denver Broncos in 2004. He was a prolific rusher who was often the heart of the team’s offense when he played. Spotrac, a website that tracks sports salaries, says the 38-year-old made $43.1 million throughout his career.

Despite the earnings, Portis struggled with his finances not long after retirement and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015. He was unable to pay a debt of $5 million, which included $412,000 in domestic support to four women, $390,000 to the IRS, $457,000 to casinos and $500,000 to his mother. In a 2017 Sports Illustrated profile, Portis said he contemplated killing one of his former financial managers after losing millions of dollars in investments — before a friend talked him out of it.

Portis told the magazine that he sat in his car outside a building with a loaded gun in 2013.

“It wasn’t no beat-up,” Portis said. “It was kill.”

Portis also filed multiple lawsuits against former financial adviser Jeff Rubin from 2011 to 2013 claiming Mr. Rubin withdrew without the player’s knowledge more than $3.1 million from Portis’ investments.

The Redskins declined to comment on Portis’ situation and referred questions to the running back’s attorney. In recent years, Portis has worked as a sideline analyst for the Redskins during preseason games.

Prosecutors described McCune and Buckhalter as the ringleaders of the scheme.

The Associated Press reported that the FBI arrested four members of the group Thursday morning and that six others, including Portis, agreed to surrender to authorities.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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