The government also intends to charge former NFL wide receivers Joe Horn and Reche Caldwell with conspiracy to commit health-care fraud, according to a news release.
The specific combination of charges for the 10 players vary by individual but include conspiracy to commit health-care wire fraud, wire fraud and health-care fraud. Portis was charged with all three. The charges carry a legal maximum penalty of 50 years combined, though in white-collar cases, federal sentencing guidelines probably will call for a term far below that.
Four former NFL players were arrested Thursday morning, and the others, including Portis, are expected to surrender at some point. The arrested players were McCune in Georgia, Eubanks in Mississippi, Brown in Texas and Rogers in Georgia.
The players allegedly submitted false claims to the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan for reimbursement for medical equipment — such as hyperbaric chambers, cryotherapy machines, ultrasound machines used to conduct women’s health exams and electromagnetic therapy devices designed for use on horses — costing between $40,000 and $50,000.According to the indictments, the players fabricated documents, including invoices and prescriptions, to execute the plan.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan is funded by NFL teams and jointly administered by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Assistant attorney general Brian Benczkowski said the league and the players’ union were aware that the indictments were coming. Neither organization responded to requests to comment Thursday.
The accused players filed $3.9 million in false claims, and between June 2017 and December 2018, the health plan paid them more than $3.4 million on those claims, according to the court documents.
“The expensive medical equipment described in the Reimbursement Request Forms that the Defendants submitted or caused to be submitted to the Plan were never purchased or received from the Participant, and the invoices from medical equipment companies, letters from health care providers, and prescriptions from health-care providers accompanying the Reimbursement Request Forms were all fabricated,” the indictment reads.
Mark Dycio, an attorney for Portis who has represented other Redskins on legal matters, said his client was innocent.
“Clinton Portis had no knowledge that his participation in what he believed to be an NFL sanctioned medical reimbursement program was illegal,” Dycio said. “He is completely taken aback by this indictment and will move forward with the process of clearing his good name and those of his fellow NFL alumni.”
Portis, 38, played for the Redskins from 2004 to 2010, becoming a fan favorite for both his soaring talent and off-field whimsy. During one playoff run, Portis dressed up for media interviews as a different character each week, introducing the world to “Sheriff Gonna Getcha,” “Coach Janky Spanky” and “Dr. Do Itch Big.”
Portis made $43.1 million in the NFL, but after his playing days ended, he fell into financial despair. He told Sports Illustrated in 2017 that fraudsters posing as money managers drained his retirement. In 2013, Portis told the magazine, he waited outside an office building for the swindlers to emerge with a loaded pistol in his car, intent on killing them until a friend called and convinced him not to.
Portis worked as a sideline reporter this summer for broadcasts of Redskins preseason games, and he remains close with owner Daniel Snyder. The Redskins declined to comment Thursday.
According to the indictments, the players fall into two groups: those who recruited former players and helped file fraudulent claims and others who agreed to provide their personal information knowing it would be used to defraud the health-care fund for fellow retired players. The players who filed the fraudulent claims on behalf of others received “payment of kickbacks and bribes” of up to $10,000 for each false claim.
The charging documents paint McCune first and then Buckhalter as pivotal figures in the scheme.
Benczkowski, who said the investigation is ongoing, said the allegations were “very much like a typical health-care fraud scheme. There were two ringleaders. The second ringleader learned of the scheme from the first, was a participant in the first conspiracy. Those individuals then recruited recruiters — they found recruiters to reach out to former players they knew, to offer the opportunity to be part of the conspiracy and get these payments. So it looks just like a traditional health-care fraud scheme. You have a ringleader at the top, you have recruiters down below, and then you have what would normally be patients in a normal health-care fraud scheme. In this case, they were former NFL players.”
McCune, a linebacker drafted by the Redskins in 2005 who played in the NFL until 2009, filed the first fraudulent claim. On Oct. 3, 2017, McCune filed a reimbursement claim in Buckhalter’s name for a PEMF8000E Equine Unit, an electromagnetic therapy mobile device used on horses. He also filed a claim for an electromagnetic therapy magnetic mattress and three associated “butterfly loops” at a total cost of nearly $40,000.
Later that month, McCune filed false claims in the names of Eubanks and Brown. Between February 2018 and April 2018, according to the documents, McCune filed another six claims using the names of Vanover, Portis, Butler and Bennett.
On March 8, 2018, McCune filed a false claim under Portis’s name for a “Crome Pro Cryosauna” — a cryotherapy device that looks like a stand-up tanning bed — and a “Sculpting Cryo Lipolysis,” equipment used for the cosmetic removal of body fat. Combined, the equipment cost more than $54,000, one of the costliest claims noted in the documents.
The documents allege Buckhalter, a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos from 2001 to 2010, used the same scheme with the help of Rogers, recruiting new players to file similar reimbursement forms.
McCune and Buckhalter allegedly called the number that handles reimbursement requests and impersonated other players to check the status of false claims submitted on their behalf.
The investigation was triggered, officials said, by health insurer Cigna, which first took notice of suspicious claims.
“When you see something like that as a claims administrator, it tends to draw your attention,” Benczkowski said.
Benczkowski said the Justice Department pursued the case “because of the potential impact of these crimes — not only the amount of money at stakes but the fact that the crimes potentially impacted a very important benefit that was collectively bargained between the league and the players association to benefit former players and their spouses and their dependents.
“Whatever the motivation that any of these folks was, in my mind, that was irrelevant. What’s important in my mind here is to be able to protect this important benefit that the league and the players association collectively bargained for.”
Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report.