Ex-NBA players charged with defrauding health and benefits plan : NPR

More than a dozen former NBA players have been charged with defrauding an NBA healthcare fund out of nearly $4 million, according to an indictment released Thursday in federal court in New York.


Today prosecutors announced charges against 19 people, all but a former NBA player, for an alleged health insurance scam. At least 16 of them were arrested. They are accused of defrauding the NBA health and welfare benefit plan out of $4 million. Ben Golliver is the National NBA Writer for The Washington Post and joins us now. Welcome.

BEN GOLLIVER: Glad to be here.

CHANG: So what exactly are these former players accused of doing? For example, how did they execute this alleged scheme?

GOLLIVER: Well, if that’s true, it’s a very sad story. In 2016, the NBA and the players’ association decided to extend health care benefits to all retired players. Now the idea was that a lot of those players would come of age. They may still suffer the effects of injuries from their playing careers. And there would be a pool of money available to all former players to, you know, basically cover their medical expenses.

Now what these ex-players would have done is basically create fake bills for dental procedures or other health procedures they never received, submit them to the league’s health care plan to refund, then pocket the money. The leader of the alleged scheme was Terrence Williams, a former player who prosecutors say recruited other former players and took bribes to – you know, hand over documents to allow those players to submit similar claims. .

CHANG: That’s right. I mean, some of them were pretty well-known players, right? We have Sebastian Telfair as one of the defendants, Glen “Big Baby” Davis. You just mentioned Terrence Williams, who was the first draft pick in 2009. Can you just tell me, how these activities that are described in the indictment – how did they first come to light?

GOLLIVER: Well, it looks like they got pretty sloppy. This is an investigation that has been going on for years and years. But in one example, three players submitted documents for having the same dental procedure on the same teeth on the same day, right?

CHANG: Oops. Yeah.

GOLLIVER: And so it probably raised some red flags there, for sure. And another player, you know, claimed that he had a procedure in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, when he was actually, at the same time, playing overseas for another team. And so I think it was about trying to accumulate as much evidence as possible to make sure those charges would hold.

Chang: Yeah. Well, how have any of these accused players or their attorneys responded to the accusations so far?

GOLLIVER: Well, everyone’s been pretty quiet so far. I think the biggest development is that one of the former players is currently an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers. He was hired in August. It is called Milt Palacio. Now he has been placed on administrative leave by the Blazers until further notice. And so this is a major development. Otherwise, the NBA said in a statement released today that it will cooperate fully with the US Attorney’s office. And the NBA Players Union, which was so instrumental in creating this funding pool, said it will only continue to monitor the matter. They didn’t go into much more detail. We are still awaiting news from other players who, as you noted above, have been arrested in most cases.

Chang: Yeah. Well, tell us, what kind of penalties could these defendants face if they are indeed found guilty of the charges they face?

GOLLIVER: Well, fraud is very serious, especially at the federal level. So, I mean, you know, we’re looking at, you know, years in prison, potentially. We will see exactly what the prosecutor’s strategy is. I mean, they clearly cast a very wide net by arresting 18 former players.

CHANG: That’s right. To the right.

GOLLIVER: And it’s possible, sometimes, that they just want some of those players to testify against the point guard. But that’s speculation on my part. But they are considering serious charges. You know, healthcare fraud is no joke.

CHANG: That’s right. It’s Ben Golliver from the Washington Post. Thank you so much.

GOLLIVER: Thank you.

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