Retired NFL wide receiver Joe Horn pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, the first guilty plea from last week’s indictment of a dozen former players accused of attempting to cash in on bogus claims from the league’s health care benefit program.
Horn admitted to signing documents agreeing to conspire with other former players to submit fraudulent claims worth $4 million to the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account for medical equipment that was never provided to eligible members. Horn admitted in his plea that he received $149,775 for fake claims submitted in 2018, per NOLA.com.
Federal prosecutors charged 10 former players in the scheme on Dec. 12, including former Washington Redskins players Clinton Portis and Carlos Rogers.
Horn faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, but will likely receive a much more lenient punishment when sentenced in April. The plea likely signals a deal reached with prosecutors.
The original 10 players charged were: Portis, Rogers, Tamarick Vanover, Robert McCune, John Eubanks, Ceandris Brown, James Butler, Fredrick Bennett, Correll Buckhalter and Etric Pruitt. Horn and Reche Caldwell were charged days later.
Portis declined to comment to ESPN. His attorney, Mark Dycio, said in a statement last week that Portis was “taken aback” by the indictment and “will move forward with the process of clearing his good name and those of his fellow NFL alumni.”
“Many of the players named in the indictment are shocked to the allegations given that most if not all deny any participation in any scheme to defraud the insurance company,” Dycio said. “Clinton Portis has no knowledge that his participation in what he believed to be an NFL-sanctioned medical reimbursement was illegal.”
Authorities accuse those charged with recruiting other former NFL players to allow them to submit fraudulent requests for expensive medical devices, including hyperbaric oxygen chambers, cryotherapy machines and ultrasound machines, according to ESPN. The average claim was between $40,000 to $50,000.
The indicted players went so far as to create fake invoices and prescriptions for the devices and treatments, authorities allege, though they said there is no evidence that medical professionals signed off on the requests. Players received a portion of the reimbursement checks from the NFL health plan.
Per NOLA.com, Horn also admitted to paying off co-defendants Vanover and Caldwell, as well as others who assisted in the scheme, according to court documents.
Horn played 12 years in the NFL from 1996 to 2008, seven of them with the New Orleans Saints. He went to four Pro Bowls, and caught 58 career touchdown passes. He’s most well-known for his flamboyant touchdown celebrations, including in 2003 when he pulled a cellphone from beneath the padding around the base of the uprights and placing a call as he walked off the field.