Prosecutors say an investigation of racketeering in sports found agents used cash, cars, clothes, trips and threats of violence to induce dozens of college athletes to sign management contracts.
Indictments were returned Wednesday against three sports agents and Cris Carter of the Philadelphia Eagles. Prosecutors announced 43 other professional athletes agreed to enter a one-year federal probation program for concealing improper payments while they were in college."Over the years, thousands of young men and women have matured and developed from their participation in athletics, and countless others have enjoyed the tradition and excitement of intercollegiate competition," U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas said.
"Unfortunately, there are those who would seek to unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of the students and colleges involved. Those persons should expect that their illegal activities will be investigated and prosecuted."
Prosecutors said Lloyd Bloom and Norby Walters, two agents who were the targets of the investigation, signed college players from late 1984 through early 1987 using "an array of benefits." They included large amounts of cash, interest-free loans, cars, clothing, concert and airline tickets, trips to New York City, hotel accommodations, use of limousines and trips to major entertainment events, prosecutors said.
The indictment said that when some athletes decided they no longer wanted to be represented by Walters and Bloom, the agents threatened to break their legs or other violence. The agents claimed the backing of Michael Franzese, an imprisoned reputed member of New York's Colombo crime family, the indictment said.
"They said they had partners from Los Angeles and Las Vegas, individuals who don't like to be messed with," Valukas said.
Walters, 58, of New York and Bloom, 29, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., were charged with racketeering, conspiracy, extortion and mail and wire fraud. If convicted, they could face up to 70 years in prison and fines totaling $2 million.
Indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice is agent David Lueddeke, 37, of Calabasas, Calif., who allegedly made a $5,000 payment to Carter.
Carter, an All-America receiver at Ohio State in 1986, is charged in a two-count criminal complaint with mail fraud and obstruction of justice. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted.
Valukas said Carter is believed to be the first athlete to be charged with criminal fraud as a result of accepting improper payments while playing in college.
In the indictment, the 43 other professional athletes admit they signed professional management contracts while in college, then falsely told their schools they were eligible for scholarships.
Those players include basketball forward Brad Sellers of Ohio State, the Chicago Bulls' No. 1 draft pick in 1986; football cornerback Roderick Woodson, 23, of Purdue, a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1987; Paul Palmer, 23, of Temple, a running back and 1987 first-round choice of the Kansas City Chiefs; and running bck Brent Fullwood, 24, of Auburn, the 1987 first-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers.