AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Today, prosecutors announced charges against 19 people, all but one former NBA player, for an alleged health insurance claim scam. At least 16 of them were arrested. They are accused of defrauding the $ 4 million NBA health and welfare benefit plan. Ben Golliver is the NBA National Editor for The Washington Post and is joining us now. Welcome.
BEN GOLLIVER: Glad to be here.
CHANG: So what exactly are these former players accused of? For example, how did they carry out this alleged scheme?
GOLLIVER: Well, if that’s true, that’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 these players are getting older. They can still suffer the effects of injuries from their playing careers. And there would be a pool of money available to all the former players to access, you know, to basically cover their medical bills.
Now, what these former players would have done is basically create bogus invoices for dental or other health procedures that they never received, submit them to the league’s health care plan for reimbursement. , then pocket the money. The leader of the alleged scheme was Terrence Williams, a former player who prosecutors said was recruiting other former players and receiving bribes for the – you know, handing over the documents to allow those players to submit claims. similar.
CHANG: Right. I mean, some of them were pretty well-known players, weren’t they? We have Sebastian Telfair as one of the accused, Glen “Big Baby” Davis. You just mentioned Terrence Williams, who was the first-round draft pick in 2009. Can you just tell me how these activities described in the indictment first came to light?
GOLLIVER: Well, it looks like they’ve been pretty careless. It 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. Yes.
GOLLIVER: And so that probably raised some red flags over there, of course. And another player, you know, claimed he had surgery in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, when he was actually playing around the same time abroad 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 up.
CHANG: Yeah. Well, how have any of these accused players or their attorneys responded to the charges so far?
GOLLIVER: Well, everyone’s been pretty low key so far. I think the biggest development is that one of the former players is actually a current Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach. He was hired in August. His name is Milt Palacio. Now he has been put on administrative leave by the Blazers until further notice. And so this is a major development. Otherwise, the NBA said in a statement it released today that it will cooperate fully with the US prosecutor’s office. And the NBA Players Union, which was instrumental in creating that funding pool, said it would only continue to monitor the matter. They didn’t go into much more detail. We are still waiting to hear 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 actually convicted of the charges before them?
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’ll see exactly what the prosecutor’s strategy is, however. I mean, they clearly threw a very wide net in stopping 18 former players.
CHANG: Right. Law.
GOLLIVER: And it’s possible, sometimes, that they want some of these players to just testify against the point guard. But that’s a speculation on my part. But they are considering serious charges. You know, healthcare fraud is no joke.
CHANG: Right. It’s Ben Golliver from the Washington Post. Thank you so much.
GOLLIVER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.