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Former Falcon, Georgia Tech star and Atlanta locals among 10 former NFL players charged in health care fraud scheme

The Justice Department announced charges in the more than $3-million fraud conspiracy on Thursday.

ATLANTA — One is a player who briefly played for the Falcons. One is a former Georgia Tech star from Bainbridge. Another is a former Auburn star who had a long and successful NFL career and now lives in Alpharetta.

The Atlanta area, and Georgia broadly, are heavily represented in a federal indictment announced Thursday that accuses 10 former NFL players of conspiring to defraud the health care benefit program for retired football players.

The names include Etric Pruitt, who played three games with the Atlanta Falcons in 2004; James Butler, a decorated Bainbridge High School athlete who starred at Georgia Tech from 2001-04 and won a Super Bowl in 2008; and Carlos Rogers, an Auburn legend who went on to 10-year NFL career that included a Pro Bowl selection in 2011.

That doesn't even cover it all.

There's also Robert McCune, who played eight games with Washington and Baltimore from 2005-08 and lives in Riverdale, and Fred Bennett, who had a 49-game NFL career and lives near Savannah.

Those five men face varying charges in the scheme outlined in a release the Justice Department issued.

The former players allegedly engaged in an organized scheme to submit false claims for expensive medical equipment like hyperbaric oxygen chambers or cryotherapy machines to the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan.

The retired player health fund is designed to cover medical care costs for former players that aren't otherwise covered by insurance.

Those claims - which typically ranged from $40,000 to $50,000 - also included more suspicious purchases like ultrasound machines and electromagnetic therapy devices that were designed for horses, the government said.

And the machines, officials say, were never actually purchased. Officials said that in many cases, medical providers and doctors had never even treated the players involved.

It worked like this: The group would find other eligible former players to submit fake claims in exchange for kickbacks and bribes in the thousands of dollars. Then they'd submit the fake claims, collect the checks, and give the players they used to submit the claim their cut of the check.

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

According to the Justice Department, the scheme submitted more than $3.9 million in claims between June 2017 and December 2018 and successfully collected $3.4 million in payments.

"This investigation serves as an illustration of the rampant and deliberate scams against health care plans occurring daily throughout the country,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the Miami Field Office.

McCune, of Riverdale, faces some of the most serious charges - one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud and nine more counts of health care fraud. The government alleged he was a ringleader who helped recruit other players and phoned in to impersonate other players and check on the status of the fraudulent claims.

Rogers, the former Auburn star living in Alapharetta, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of health care fraud. 

Butler, the former Georgia Tech star, and Bennett, of Chatham County, both face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of health care fraud.

Pruitt, the former Falcon, faces the least amount of charges - one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud.

Other players indicted included former star running back Clinton Portis, Correll Buckhalter, Tamarick Vanover, Ceandrick Brown and John Eubanks. Two others, longtime Saints receiver Joe Horn and Reche Caldwell, were also associated with the scheme.

It's not yet clear what kinds of penalties the players could face.


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