‘A tremendous mistake.’ Former NFL running back gets prison time for Lexington fraud

Rob Carr/AP
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An accomplished NFL running back was sentenced in a federal courtroom in Lexington Thursday to six months in federal prison and six months of home detention after he admitted to conspiring with others to defraud an NFL health care account.

Clinton Portis, one of 15 former NFL players involved in the multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell. Portis admitted that he conspired with other former NFL players to submit false expense claims to a fund which was intended to help retired football players pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance.

Bogus claims filed in Portis’ name caused the NFL health care fund to pay out nearly $100,000. The scheme was orchestrated by former NFL player Robert McCune, who has also pleaded guilty in the case.

Federal sentencing guidelines recommended that Portis serve between 10 and 16 months in prison, according to court records. Prosecutors asked that Portis be sentenced on the high end of those guidelines. Punishments for the defendants in this case have varied, from more than one year in prison to no prison time at all. Most of the sentences have been relatively light.

Portis’ sentence included prison time in part because Caldwell didn’t feel as though Portis had fully accepted responsibility for his involvement in the fraud scheme. Several of the former players involved admitted their guilt early and even cooperated with investigators. Portis didn’t and instead took his case to trial. He pleaded guilty after the jury came back hung.

Caldwell said in court Thursday that while Portis did plead guilty, she feels as though he is “somebody who just wants to get the case over with.”

“There is still this missing component and that is owning what he did,” she said.

Portis’ sentence will start in March, when he’s required to self-report to a prison facility. He’ll serve his six months of home detention after his prison time ends. He’ll also be on supervised release for three years after his prison sentence ends.

Prosecutors had asked Caldwell to sentence Portis on the high end of the sentencing guidelines.

“He had every opportunity to do the right thing, and he didn’t do it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Francis Scanlon said in court Thursday.

Portis’ attorneys had asked Caldwell to credit him for time served and not give him any prison time.

“The court has declined to impose a sentence of incarceration on many defendants charged in this case and another, separate case based on the same conduct,” Portis’ attorneys wrote in court records. “ … Mr. Portis’s sentence should be no greater than those imposed on these other defendants.”

The fund that was defrauded was the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan. The plan was set up so that former NFL players could get reimbursed for medical expenses not covered by insurance. The claims made by the defendants were for expensive medical equipment which was never actually purchased, according to court records.

The players didn’t live in Lexington, but the company which operated the fund, Cigna, had a processing center in Lexington. The fraudulent claims were processed through the Lexington location, which is why the players have been prosecuted in Lexington.

Two fraudulent claims were filed in Portis’ name while the scheme was being conducted, according to court records. Portis paid McCune about $13,500 in kickback after those claims paid out nearly $100,000.

Portis avoided investigators’ calls, declined to make any statements to the FBI during its investigation, and didn’t make plans to repay the plan prior to prosecution. However, he has paid back the stolen money, according to court records.

NFL team owner: ‘Clinton is the opposite of a criminal’

Dozens of letters were filed into court records in support of Portis for Caldwell to consider prior to sentencing, according to court records.

Among those testimonies in support of Clinton Portis was a letter from Dan and Tanya Snyder, the owners of the Washington Football Team. Portis played for Washington during his time in the NFL.

The Snyders wrote in their letter that Portis has been like a family member to them and he mentored one of their sons. They also wrote that Portis has been a charitable person in the 22 years they’ve known him. He has supported cancer survivors and helped Dan Snyder grieve the death of star NFL safety Sean Taylor in 2007.

“Clinton’s generosity is legendary, but so is his trust in others, which sometimes proves misplaced,” the Snyders wrote in their letter. “It has been hard over the years to see Clinton taken advantage of by those who have abused his trust. We were shocked when Clinton was indicted in this case. Not because Clinton got wrapped up in something where others did not have his best interest in mind, but because Clinton is the opposite of a criminal.”

The Snyders also said Portis has told them how much he regrets getting involved in the scheme and that he should’ve known it was illegitimate. They said it had been difficult “watching our friend go through this” and they “support Clinton fully.”

Andrew George, one of Portis’ attorneys in the case, said what Portis did was “ a tremendous mistake and it would cost him dearly.”

“I am confident that it won’t define him, that he has a whole lot more good to do,” George said.

Portis played in the NFL from 2002 to 2012. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos and played several seasons with the franchise now known as the Washington Football Team. He earned about $43 million during his NFL career but faced money problems after retiring, according to court records.

Portis racked up nearly 10,000 rushing yards in his NFL career. He ran for more than 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons in the league, and then did so once more in his fourth season.

Portis is the 10th player to be sentenced in this case, which features 15 total defendants.

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. Brown was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Rogers was sentenced to 180 days on home detention and 400 hours of community service.

Correll Buckhalter was sentenced to 10 months in prison and 10 months of house arrest plus three years probation. Anthony Montgomery, Darrell Reid and Fredrick Bennett were credited for previous time served in jail and sentenced to six months of home detention plus three years probation.

Joseph Horn was credited for time served and ordered to pay a $100 fine but didn’t face any additional penalties after he paid back the nearly $150,000 he took from the health care fund.

The players previously sentenced were also ordered to pay restitution for the amount of money they helped take from the fund. Some were ordered to split their restitution with others involved.

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 the case.

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

‘The lure of easy money.’ Former NFL players get prison time for Lexington fraud case

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