Federal prosecutors have charged nearly 20 former NBA players with defrauding the league’s health insurance plan out of about $2.5 million.
Audrey Strauss, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told reporters Thursday that FBI agents arrested 15 former players and one of their wives in connection with the scheme waged between 2017 to 2020.
The players illegally pocketed the money after submitting about $4 million in false claims to the NBA’s Health and Wellness Benefit Plan for reimbursement of medical and dental expenses that were never incurred, she said. The reimbursements ranged from $65,000 to $420,000.
“Travel records, email, GPS data and other evidence shows that the defendants who purportedly received medical and dental services at a location on a particular date were often nowhere near the providers’ offices when the claimed services were supposedly provided,” Ms. Strauss said.
Terrence Williams became the “leader” and “linchpin” of the scheme after he submitted false claims in 2017 and then recruited others to join him, she said.
Williams — who played for the Nets, Celtics, Rockets and Kings — would give the former players false invoices to submit for procedures that never occurred, the Justice Department said. At least 10 players agreed to pay Williams nearly $230,000 in kickbacks for the false invoices.
When one player failed to pay Williams a kickback, Strauss said he tried to “frighten” the player by impersonating a plan employee and claiming there was an “issue” that might require the player to pay back the plan. He is charged with aggravated identity theft for the incident.
Each of the 19 defendants is charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
The NBA said in a statement that it “will cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this matter.”
“The benefit plans provided by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association to our players are critically important to support their health and well-being throughout their playing careers and over the course of their lives, which makes these allegations particularly disheartening,” the league said.
Four NBA champions were among those charged, including Anthony Allen and Glen Davis, who won a title with the Boston Celtics; Shannon Brown, who won two titles with the Los Angeles Lakers; and Melvin Ely, who won with the San Antonio Spurs. Allen’s wife, Desiree, was also charged in the scheme.
Most of the other ex-players had journeyman careers during which they played for various teams but did not achieve the star status or salary of top players, according to The Associated Press.
The other defendants include: Anthony Wroten, Antoine Wright, Alan Anderson, Charles Watson Jr., Christopher Douglas-Roberts, Darius Miles, Eddie Robinson, Gregory Smith, Jamario Moon, Milton Palacio, Ruben Patterson, Sebastian Telfair and William Bynum.
The charges came just weeks after former NFL players Clinton Portis, Tamarick Vanover and Robert McCune pleaded guilty to federal charges linked to a multimillion-dollar nationwide scheme to defraud the league’s health care benefit program.