Updated: Ex-NFL players get prison time, house arrest for Lexington health care fraud

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Four former NFL players were sentenced in Lexington to house arrest — with one first spending time in prison — for taking part in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.

Correll Buckhalter, Anthony Montgomery, Darrell Reid and Fredrick Bennett were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell this week. Of the four, Buckhalter’s punishment was more severe; he was sentenced to 10 months in prison and 10 months of house arrest plus three years probation.

Montgomery, Bennett and Reid were credited for previous time served in jail and sentenced to six months of home detention plus three years probation.

During sentencing hearings held Monday and Tuesday, Caldwell said she believed the three former NFL players had genuine regret for what they did. Nevertheless, she wanted to deter other people from thinking they can get away with fraud.

All four players had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, according to court records. They made bogus claims to reimburse fraudulent out-of-pocket medical expenses. The NFL has a Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan that helps retired players pay for medical expenses up to $350,000, according to court records.

Players took advantage of that fund to get reimbursed, and the scheme led to nearly $4 million in bogus claims. The scheme was primarily orchestrated by former NFL player Robert McCune, who recruited others to join him in the operation. McCune and others submitted fraudulent claims for medical care or equipment that they didn’t pay for or receive.

McCune has pleaded guilty in the scheme.

“Health care fraud of this nature contributes greatly to the inflated cost of health care in this country,” prosecutors wrote in court records. “It is incumbent upon the court to send a strong, clear message to the public that such a violation of the trust health care plans place in those they seek to help cannot and will not be tolerated.”

None of the players charged lived in Kentucky. The charges were handled here because Cigna, the company that handled claims for the NFL plan, processed them through a center in Lexington.

‘This situation is not Correll’s character at all’

Buckhalter, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos, was one of the players who provided McCune with his personal information so McCune could submit fraudulent reimbursement claims. Prosecutors determined that Buckhalter received about $121,493 for bogus expenses, according to court records.

But prosecutors said Buckhalter also was a leader and organizer in “a separate, similar conspiracy” that operated in the same manner as McCune’s scheme. Fraudulent claims were made to the health care fund on behalf of participants, who then paid kickbacks to organizers.

In the separate scheme, Buckhalter filed a claim under his name, which paid him about $56,821, according to court records. In total, he and his co-conspirators received nearly $750,000 in fraudulent reimbursements.

Buckhalter, 43, has to pay about $927,362 in restitution for the fraud, but some of that amount will be split between Buckhalter and other conspirators, prosecutors said Monday.

Caldwell said the 20-month split sentence she imposed was just below what prosecutors had recommended for Buckhalter. Buckhalter, who’s currently a volunteer for the Kansas City Chiefs, accepted responsibility in court Monday.

“I participated in something that I know is against the way I was raised,” he said.

Buckhalter’s wife, LaFonda Buckhalter, filed in court a letter in support of her husband.

“This situation is not Correll’s character at all,” LaFonda Buckhalter wrote in the letter. “Correll and I are givers and hard-working individuals. We’ve given to strangers, churches, family and friends. Correll is a devoted father to our son and would always set a good example for him to follow.”

She also wrote that her husband had been volunteering at the Covenant Christian Academy for six years to positively impact youth.

Buckhalter will have to self-report to a prison facility by 2 p.m. on Jan. 18.

Montgomery, Reid, Bennett were lower in fraud hierarchy

Montgomery, Reid and Bennett were “towards the bottom” in the fraud scheme’s hierarchy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Smith said in court Tuesday. They each only had one claim approved and they didn’t make efforts to recruit more conspirators like some other defendants.

Montgomery, who played for the franchise now known as the Washington Football Team, got involved in the scheme after being recruited by John Eubanks, a former teammate. Eubanks worked with McCune to recruit more players to file more claims in those players’ names, according to court records.

Montgomery, 38, submitted two bogus claims worth about $94,046, according to court records. He was reimbursed for about $47,225. Montgomery’s second claim was denied.

Prosecutors suggested in court records that Montgomery’s sentence be on the low end of the 10 to 16 months recommended.

“I accept all responsibility for what I’ve done,” Montgomery said in court Monday. He further called the fraud a “foolish mistake.”

Montgomery has to pay a portion of $47,225 in restitution, which will be split between him and others involved.

Reid, who played for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, was recruited into the scheme by Eubanks after the two were introduced to each other by Montgomery, according to court records.

Reid submitted two fraudulent claims worth about $93,297. The first claim was approved and Reid received about $46,971. He paid Eubanks an $8,000 kickback. Reid’s second claim was denied, according to court records.

Prosecutors wrote in court records that Reid’s sentence should fall on the low end of the six to 12 months suggested.

Reid said Monday he “will continuously strive to fight the black eye” that a felony conviction will leave on his reputation. He said the fraud was “not of my true character.”

Reid has to pay a portion of $46,971 in restitution, which will be split between him and other conspirators.

Bennett, who played for the Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals, was recruited into the scheme by McCune.

“I just want to express my deepest regrets, remorse,” Bennett said in court Tuesday. “... I’ve learned my lesson.”

Bennett’s attorney, H. Wayne Roberts, said Bennett immediately admitted guilt to the FBI when he was approached by investigators and said he would have been willing to testify against McCune in a jury trial if necessary.

Prosecutors wrote in court records that Bennett’s sentence range should be between six and 12 months in prison. They recommended the shorter length.

Before sentencing him, Caldwell said she believed Bennett displayed “true acceptance of responsibility.”

Two claims were filed in Bennett’s name, the first of which paid him about $39,025. He paid McCune at least $7,000 in kickbacks. The second claim was denied.

Bennett will have to pay restitution for the $39,025, but it will be split between him and McCune, according to prosecutors.

Out of the 15 players who pleaded guilty in this case, nine have been sentenced. John Eubanks was previously sentenced to a year and a half in prison, Etric Pruitt was sentenced to three months and James Butler was sentenced to two months.

Ceandris Brown and Carlos Rogers have also been sentenced. Caldwell sentenced Brown to one year and one day in prison and ordered him to pay $84,777 in restitution. Rogers was sentenced to 180 days on home detention, 400 hours of community service and fined $10,000.

Donald Caldwell, one of the players involved in the scheme, was shot and killed in an apparent robbery attempt before he could be sentenced in this case.