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3 ex-NBA players have Las Vegas court hearing in health care scam

Updated October 8, 2021 - 6:10 pm

Three former NBA players will be released from custody after their arrests in Nevada on charges of attempting to defraud nearly $4 million from the league’s Health and Welfare Benefit Plan, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Las Vegas residents Alan Anderson, Charles Watson Jr. and Antoine Wright made their first court appearances via video Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brenda Weksler. During the hearing, Weksler ordered them to be released without bail by 6 p.m. Friday.

The three are among 18 former NBA players named in an indictment released Thursday. Their cases will be transferred to the Southern District of New York, and the next hearing in the case is set for Oct. 25 at the federal courthouse in Manhattan.

Others charged in the health care fraud scheme are Terrence Williams, 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 and Anthony Wroten. Allen’s wife, Desiree, also is named as a defendant.

Each defendant faces counts of conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud.

“The defendants’ playbook involved fraud and deception,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners, their alleged scheme has been disrupted and they will have to answer for their flagrant violations of law.”

In total, the defendants submitted $3.9 million in fake claims from 2017 to at least 2020, and $2.5 million was paid out, officials allege.

Williams, 34, also is charged with aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme. The Seattle native spent four seasons in the NBA and is accused of submitting false claims to the league’s health care plan.

Investigators also said he supplied false invoices to support the fraudulent claims in exchange for kickback payments that totaled at least $230,000. Prosecutors allege that when one player didn’t pay Williams, he called the co-defendant pretending to be a plan administrator and said there was a problem with the claim.

The scheme was uncovered, in part, because of the sloppy work of the defendants, authorities said.

For example, Smith, who played for the Houston Rockets, submitted claims for IV sedation, a root canal and crowns received during a Dec. 20, 2018, dental procedure in Beverly Hills, California, prosecutors said. But travel records showed he was playing basketball in Taiwan that week.

Several players also did not compare notes to see whether they were raising red flags by putting in for the same dental procedures on the same days, according to the indictment.

Some of the fake invoices and medical necessity forms stood out because “they are not on letterhead, they contain unusual formatting, they have grammatical errors,” the indictment states.

In a statement, the NBA called the allegations “particularly disheartening” because the benefit plans provided by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are critically important to support players’ health and well-being throughout their careers and post-retirement lives.

“We will cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney Office in this matter,” the statement added.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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