WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal authorities on Thursday charged 10 former National Football League players with allegedly defrauding a healthcare program of more than $3.4 million by filing false claims for hyperbaric oxygen chambers and other expensive medical equipment.
Former Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, 38, and former Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, 38, were among those charged by the U.S. Justice Department.
U.S. authorities also said they plan to file charges against Joe Horn, 47, who at one point held the New Orleans Saints’ record for touchdown catches.
Portis, Rogers and at least one other defendant, former safety Ceandris “C.C.” Brown, filed for bankruptcy after their playing careers, court records show.
Portis, Brown and Horn also have sued the NFL, claiming the league failed to warn them they risked brain damage.
Brian Benczkowski, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the former players filed false claims for expensive equipment like oxygen chambers, cryotherapy machines, and electromagnetic therapy devices designed to be used on horses.
Those devices, which typically cost up to $50,000, were actually never purchased, he said.
Ringleaders of the scheme took kickbacks or bribes of up to $10,000 from other former players to help carry it out, Benczkowski said.
“By defrauding the plan and treating it like their own personal ATM machine, sadly, the defendants placed the plan’s tax-exempt status at risk,” he said at a news conference.
A NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The NFL Players’ Association declined to comment.
Researchers say former football players have an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems, related to the grueling physical contact inherent in the sport and the weight they gain to play it.
The NFL reached a settlement in 2017 to help cover medical costs for former players who suffer from neurological problems believed to be caused by concussions sustained during their careers.
The alleged scheme targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which was set up in 2006 to help retired players cover medical expenses and currently has about $800 million in assets. No current NFL players are believed to be involved in the scheme, Benczkowski said.
Rogers, Brown and two other players – Robert McCune and John Eubanks – were arrested on Thursday morning, officials said. The other six defendants surrendered voluntarily.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Aditional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Oatis