The calls came around Christmastime. They were personal and desperate: From one National Football League player to another, could you spare some cash?
The first call went to former Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, the second to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Combined, they gave $1,500.
The third and last call went to Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp. It was then that police got involved and discovered what they say was a scam allegedly carried out by a Howard County man. Authorities say he got hold of a confidential list of personal phone numbers for NFL players and called several of them, impersonating other players.
Lewis V. Sills, 30, of Elkridge was arrested last week at a Super Fresh store in Elkridge and charged with theft, identity theft, resisting arrest and assaulting officers. He allegedly was picking up a $525 wire transfer from Sapp, who had received a request for cash from someone identifying himself as Redskins wide receiver Laveranues Coles. Sapp's financial manager notified authorities before the money was sent.
Police said they watched Sills pick up the cash. When they tried to arrest him, he ran, then fought with officers when they caught up to him, said Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewelyn.
The caller "was very aggressive," said Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's vice president for security, who helped police with the investigation. "It is unique that he got the list of numbers. It is of a lot of interest to us how he did that."
Sills's alleged pleas for money were believable enough to convince NFL players that their fellow professional athletes, some of whom have multimillion-dollar salaries, were in need of a small loan, according to police. "They have been described as elaborate and desperate and convincing enough for players to give up money," Llewelyn said.
Ahlerich would not offer details of the stories behind the requests for quick cash but said they worked on the players' holiday spirit. "The fraud artist was portraying himself as various players in need and took advantage of the generosity and camaraderie that exists among players," Ahlerich said.
"I believe it was taking advantage of the sentiment of the season," he said. "He wanted to catch people at a benevolent moment."
Sills was released from jail after his arrest Dec. 28 in the money transfer involving Sapp. Two days later, police said, they pieced together more of the scheme and realized that Green and McNabb also had been victims.
On Dec. 17, police said, Green wired $900 to Sills, believing the request came from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware. Sills, pretending to be Boulware, had told Green that he had a cousin named Lewis Sills who needed the money, according to police.
On Dec. 22, McNabb wired Sills $600, believing he was Redskins wide receiver James Thrash, police said.
Sills was arrested again, on Dec. 30, at the Terrace Motel in Elkridge, where he was staying, according to Llewelyn. He was charged with two more counts of theft and identity theft and was being held last night at the Howard County detention center in lieu of $5,000 bond.
Ahlerich said other players besides Green, McNabb and Sapp were hit up for loans in similar calls. But no money changed hands.
Phone messages seeking comment on the case were not returned last night by the players who were victimized, the players whose names were used or their agents.
In the case involving Sapp, police said, a caller identifying himself as Coles asked for $1,800 to be wired to him in Elkridge. Sapp called his financial manager, Jeff Rubin, and both doubted the caller's identity.
Rubin called police in Howard County, then wired $525. Police said Sills walked into the Super Fresh, identified himself as Coles and picked up the money.