LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 15: Former Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis looks on from the sidelines prior to the NFL preseason game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins on August 15, 2019, at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.
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Ten former NFL players, including former Washington Redskins star running back Clinton Portis, have been charged in a brazen $3.9 million scheme to submit false claims to a health program run by the league, prosecutors said Thursday.
The players are accused in indictments filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Kentucky of claiming reimbursements for expensive medical equipment that was never actually purchased.
The equipment included hyperbaric oxygen chambers, cryotherapy devices, ultrasound equipment used to perform imaging on pregnant women, and even electromagnetic therapy devices used to treat horses, the government said.
The claims were typically for $40,000 to $50,000 apiece. The defendants allegedly fabricated documentation to submit for the claims, including invoices, prescriptions and letters of medical necessity, according to the Justice Department.
"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 former players to continue to receive tax-free reimbursements for legitimate medical expenses for themselves or their families," said assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski.
Prosecutors said some of the players acted as "ringleaders" in the scheme and recruited other former footballers, who paid the ringleaders kickbacks and bribes out of some of the fraudulently obtained reimbursements.
The kickbacks ranged from several thousand dollars to as much as $10,000 or more per claim.
The allegedly bogus claims were submitted to the Gene Upshaw National Football League Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which since 2006 has provided tax-free reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical costs of former players, their wives and their dependents up to a maximum of $350,000 per player.
More than $3.9 million in false and fraudulent claims were filed, and the plan paid out more than $3.4 million from June 2017 through December 2018, according to prosecutors. Authorities said there were two conspiracies to defraud the plan involving different players.
The alleged fraud was stopped when the health insurer Cigna became suspicious of some of the high-priced claims, including ones for equipment used to treat horses, and stopped paying the claims and notified authorities, prosecutors said.
"This investigation serves as an illustration of the rampant and deliberate scams against health care plans occurring daily throughout the country," said FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro of the Miami Field Office.
Other charged defendants include Robert McCune, a former Redskins linebacker and John Eubanks, who had played cornerback for the Washington club.
Charges also were filed against Tamarick Vanover, a former wide receiver with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, Ceandris Brown, who had played safety with the Houston Texans and New York Giants, former Giants safety James Butler, along with Frederick Bennett, Etric Pruitt, Correll Buckhalter and Carlos Rogers.
Four of the former players were arrested, and six others have agreed to self-surrender to authorities, prosecutors said. Charges against the 10 men include conspiracy, health care fraud and wire fraud.
Two other defendants, Joseph Horn and Donald "Reche" Caldwell, are expected to be charged with a so-called criminal information alleging conspiracy to commit health-care fraud.
Informations are charging devices regularly used against defendants who have reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty.
McCune, Eubanks, Vanover, Buckhalter and Rogers are among those accused of being ringleaders.
"After the claims were submitted, McCune and Buckhalter allegedly called the telephone number provided by the Plan and impersonated certain other players in order to check on the status of the false and fraudulent claims," the Justice Department said in a press release.