By Jonathan Dienst, Tom Winter, and David K. Li – NBC News
Eighteen former NBA players were charged Thursday with trying to defraud nearly $ 4 million. to the NBA Health and Welfare Benefit Plan, according to authorities.
The defendants are Terrence Williams, Alan Anderson, Anthony Allen, Shannon Brown, William Bynum, Ronald Glen Big baby Davis, Christopher Douglas-Roberts, Melvin Ely, Jamario Moon, Darius Miles, Milton Palacio, Ruben Patterson, Eddie Robinson, Gregory Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Charles Watson Jr., Antoine Wright, and Anthony Wroten. Allen’s wife, Desiree Allen, was also named as a defendant.
All face one count of conspiracy to commit health and wire fraud. By noon Thursday, 16 of the 18 defendants had been detained, authorities said.
“The defendants’ playbook involved fraud and deception”US Attorney Audrey Strauss told reporters. “They will have to answer for their flagrant violations of the law,” he added.
Strauss called Williams, a 34-year-old Seattle native who spent four seasons in the NBA, the “lynchpin of the scheme,” after submitting false claims to the league’s health plan, New York City federal prosecutors said.
It allegedly provided fake invoices to support fraudulent claims in exchange for bribes totaling at least $ 230,000, according to authorities.
Players submitted $ 3.9 million in false claims and $ 2.5 million were paid, according to authorities.
The scheme was allegedly discovered, in part, due to the sloppy work of the defendants, according to authorities.
For example, Smith, who played for the Houston Rockets, filed claims for IV sedation, a root canal and crowns that he allegedly received during a December 20, 2018, dental procedure in Beverly Hills, prosecutors said.
“Publicly available travel logs, email, and box scores showed he was playing professional basketball in Taiwan that week. and received no treatment in Beverly Hills as depicted on the claim form you submitted, ”Strauss said.
At the time, Smith was in the Taiwan Super Basketball League and scored 11 points for the Bank of Taiwan on December 21 in an 84-76 loss to Kaohsiung Jeoutai Technology (KKL).
And several players didn’t bother comparing notes to see what they were gaining attention to. toHe put in for the exact same dental procedures on the same days, Strauss said.
For instance, Davis, Allen, and Wroten requested root canals, all allegedly performed on the same six teeth on the same day of April 30, 2016, said the prosecutor. That trio also requested payments for crowns made on the same six teeth, also on the same day as May 11, 2016, according to Strauss.
Wroten and Allen submitted payments for root canals done on the same 13 teeth on the same day as Sept. 6, 2018, Strauss added.
Several of the false invoices and medical necessity forms stood out because they “have no letterhead, contain unusual formatting, have grammatical errors,” according to the indictment.
A damaging impact
Michael Driscoll, deputy director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said cases like this alleged NBA fraud have a detrimental impact on consumers.
“This (healthcare) industry loses tens of millions of dollars a year to fraud”, said. “These costs are passed on to companies and customers. It is a fraud that we take very seriously ”, he added.
Davis was one of the best known of the defendants. The 6-foot-9 (2-meter) and 289-kilogram player was a member of the last Boston Celtics team to become world champion in 2008.
Telfair, the cousin of veteran NBA player and Chinese basketball icon Stephon Marbury, was famous even before he stepped onto the professional court. He was one of the best-known high school players of his day and the Portland Trail Blazers’ 13th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.
As of late Thursday morning, it was unclear whether any of the players had hired defense attorneys.
Last month, former NFL players Clinton Portis, Tamarick Vanover and Robert McCune pleaded guilty to their involvement in a nationwide health fraud scheme and could face years in prison, the Justice Department reported.
Portis, Vanover and McCune all admitted to defrauding an NFL program created to reimburse uninsured medical expenses for retired players and their families, the Justice Department said.