Minnesota Vikings kicker Donald Igwebuike was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury in Tampa on charges he conspired to smuggle an estimated $1 million worth of heroin from his homeland of Nigeria. He has been placed on a leave of absence by the Vikings.
Igwebuike surrendered at the U.S. Customs office in Minneapolis and was led away in handcuffs to appear before a federal magistrate in St. Paul. He was charged with smuggling conspiracy, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and importation of heroin. If convicted, he could face up to 120 years in prison and $6 million in fines.
The Vikings said through a spokesman that Igwebuike, who was claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the start of the season and has made 14 of 16 field goals attempts this year, has been excused "for a sufficient period of time to allow him to handle personal matters."
Former Miami Dolphins kicker Fuad Reveiz was signed a week ago and handled the kickoffs last week for the Vikings. He now will handle all the placekicking.
The National Football League said yesterday the Vikings notified the league that Igwebuike had been given a leave of absence to "deal with his personal situation." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello added that the NFL "believes this is an appropriate action under the circumstances."
In another development with the beleaguered Vikings, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Keith Millard said he is seeking help for complications related to painkillers he has taken since knee surgery five weeks ago.
"Over the past five weeks, I've had a hard time dealing with the physical pain without medication," Millard said in a statement released by the Vikings. "I was concerned and have voluntarily sought to have the situation evaluated."
In July, Millard spent five days at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota for what he said were psychological and alcohol-use assessments.
In Tampa, U.S. Attorney Robert Genzman said the case against Igwebuike and two other men involves 296 grams of heroin worth as much as $1 million on the streets, according to the Associated Press.
Igwebuike, who in five seasons with the Buccaneers became their all-time leading scorer with 416 points, was linked to the case last month by ABC News. Prosecutors in Tampa had "irrefutable" evidence connecting him to an attempt to bring heroin into the United States from Nigeria, the network reported.
Federal investigators reportedly taped telephone conversations in which Igwebuike was said to have discussed importing drugs.
Igwebuike was charged on three counts of a four-count indictment that superseded ones returned last month against Maduwuba Ibekwe and Ibezim Ofedu, who already are in custody and have been charged. Ibekwe is a taxi driver and substitute teacher in the Tampa area who was arrested Oct. 12 at Orlando International Airport.
A personal search by a U.S. Customs Service inspector allegedly resulted in the discovery of three pellets containing heroin, which he allegedly swallowed and passed through his body. He was charged with importation of heroin, pleaded not guilty and is being held without bond.
Ofedu, who also was denied bond, was charged with conspiracy to import heroin and possession with intent to distribute. Court records say he accepted about 400 grams of heroin from an undercover Customs agent, and told agents after his arrest that he planned to distribute the drug in New York City.
Igwebuike's attorney, Larry Reed, said his client is a victim of circumstantial evidence that reportedly includes a plane ticket Igwebuike bought for Ibekwe and telephone conversations between the men.
Reed said the kicker wanted Ibekwe to take $12,000 to his parents in Nigeria. He added that the parents received the money.