Eighteen former NBA players were charged Thursday with defrauding the NBA’s Health and Welfare Benefit Plan in a benefits scheme, the U.S. Southern District of New York announced Thursday.
The players are charged with submitting false reimbursement claims for medical and dental services, beginning in 2017, to the NBA’s Health and Welfare Benefit Plan, which provides players with an HRA benefit and contributions into a health reimbursement account during and after players’ careers. In total, about $3.9 million in false claims were sought out, and about $2.5 million were paid to the players.
The former players include Terrence Williams, who has been described as the “lynchpin” of the operation, as well as Milt Palacio, Sebastian Telfair, Antoine Wright, Darius Miles, Ruben Patterson, Eddie Robinson, Gregory Smith, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Jamario Moon, Alan Anderson, Tony Allen, Shannon Brown, William Bynum, Melvin Ely, Christopher Douglas-Roberts, Tony Wroten, and Charles Watson Jr.
They have all been charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. Sixteen were arrested as of Thursday, according to officials, and nineteen have been charged in total — the nineteenth person being an unnamed spouse.
According to U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, Williams obtained fraudulent invoices for medical records, which he would then send to his co-conspirators. The co-conspirators, in turn, would submit the invoices to the benefits plan, which would pay out the claims, and then in many cases, send a kick-back to Williams.
“The defendants’ playbook involved fraud and deception. Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners, their alleged scheme has been disrupted and they will have to answer for their flagrant violations of law,” said Strauss.
Officials suggested that some of the claims that were submitted didn’t seem to add up.
One former player, Gregory Smith, allegedly submitted $48k worth of claims for dental work done at an office in Beverly Hills, California, but was in Taiwan playing basketball on the week he claimed to have received the dental work. In another instance, three former players submitted claims for dental work, including root canals and crowns, on the same six sets of teeth.
“In many instances, the defendants were not even located in the vicinity of the service providers on the dates the invoices stated they received medical or dental services,” said the Department of Justice in a statement Thursday. “In particular, GPS location information and/or documents, such as flight records, show that the defendants were in locations other than the vicinity of the medical or dental offices falsely claimed as the providers of services.”
“This industry loses tens of billions of dollars a year to fraud,” Michael J. Driscoll of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “These costs are then passed on to businesses and customers. That’s a fraud we take very seriously.”
There are some well-known names on the list of players charged.
Williams — the alleged ringleader of the scheme — had a short-lived NBA career, lasting four years in the league with the Celtics, Nets, Rockets, and Kings. According to officials, Williams received $230,000 in kickbacks as part of the scheme, and in one case, allegedly tried to “frighten” someone who failed to pay him by impersonating an official. He faces an additional charge of aggravated identity theft for that alleged incident.
“Big Baby” Davis played eight seasons in the NBA and won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. Darius Miles was drafted out of high school by the LA Clippers in 2000 and was expected to be the next great player to go straight from high school to the NBA. His career did not turn out as many expected, playing for four teams in seven NBA seasons.
Telfair become a big name when he entered the NBA out of high school and was the star of the documentary “Through the Fire,” which tells the story of his journey to the league.
Tony Allen is the player with the most prominent NBA career, playing for 14 years in the league, and making the All-NBA Defensive team six times.
The late, great Kobe Bryant called him “the best defender I ever faced.”
“He’s fundamentally sound defensively and he plays harder than everybody else defensively,” Bryant told Mark Medina in 2014. “He has a competitive desire to compete individually. That’s very uncommon. Most defensive players I face want help all the time. I’ve never heard him ask for help. He likes taking the challenge.”
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