Eighteen former NBA players were charged with attempting to defraud the NBA’s Health and Welfare Benefit Plan of nearly $4 million, officials said Thursday.
The defendants include 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.
Those charged face a count of conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud. By midday Thursday, 16 of the 18 accused players had been taken into custody, officials said.
“The defendants’ playbook involved fraud and deception,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss told reporters. “They will have to answer for their flagrant violations of law.”
Strauss called Williams, a 34-year-old Seattle native who spent four seasons in he NBA, the “scheme’s linchpin,” submitting false claims to the league’s health care plan, federal prosecutors out of New York City said.
He would allegedly supply false invoices to support the fraudulent claims in exchange for kickback payments that totaled at least $230,000, authorities said.
The players submitted $3.9 million in fake claims and $2.5 million was paid out, officials said.
The scheme was allegedly uncovered, in part, due to the sloppy work of the defendants, according to authorities.
For example, Smith, who played for the Houston Rockets, submitted claims for IV sedation, a root canal and crowns that he allegedly received during a Dec. 20, 2018, dental procedure in Beverly Hills, prosecutors said.
“Travel records, e-mail and publicly available box scores showed that he was playing professional basketball in Taiwan that week and did not receive root canals in Beverly Hills as represented in the claim form he submitted,” Strauss said.
At the time, Smith was in Taiwan’s Super Basketball League and he scored 11 points for Bank of Taiwan on Dec. 21 in an 84-76 loss to Kaohsiung Jeoutai Technology (KKL).
And several players didn’t bother comparing notes to see they were raising red flags by putting in for the exact same dental procedures on the same days, Strauss said.
For example, Davis, Allen and Wroten filed for root canals, all allegedly performed on the same six teeth on the same day of April 30, 2016, the prosecutor said. That trio also put in for payments for crowns done on the same six teeth, also on the same day of May 11, 2016, according to Strauss.
Wroten and Allen filed for root canals done on the same 13 teeth on the same day of Sept. 6, 2018, Strauss added.
Several of the fake invoices and medical necessity forms stood out because “they are not on letterhead, they contain unusual formatting, they have grammatical errors,” according to the indictment.
Michael Driscoll, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said cases like this alleged NBA fraud, have a damaging trickle-down impact on consumers.
“This (health care) industry loses tens of millions of dollars a year to fraud,” he said. “These costs are then passed down to business and customers. That’s a fraud we take very seriously.”
Davis was among the most well-known of the defendants.
Telfair, the cousin of longtime NBA player and Chinese basketball icon Stephon Marbury, was famous before he even set foot on the pro hardwood. He was one of his era’s biggest high school players and the 13th overall pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2004 NBA Draft.
It wasn’t immediately clear by late Thursday morning if any of the players had hired defense attorneys.
Last month, former NFL players Clinton Portis, Tamarick Vanover and Robert McCune pleaded guilty for their roles in a nationwide health care fraud scheme and could face years in prison, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Portis, Vanover and McCune admitted to defrauding an NFL program set up to reimburse medical expenses not covered by insurance for retired players and their families, the Justice Department said.