Clinton Portis, the former Washington and Denver star, and two other former NFL pros have pleaded guilty to their role in a wide-ranging effort to defraud a healthcare benefits program for retired players , the Ministry of Justice announced on Tuesday. Portis and Tamarick Vanover pleaded guilty on Friday, while Robert McCune, one of the ringleaders of the scheme, pleaded guilty on August 24.
A total of 15 people have pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to defraud the Gene Upshaw NFL Players Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which reimburses former players for out-of-pocket medical expenses up to $350,000.
The NFL declined to comment. The NFL Players Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to court documents, Portis submitted fraudulent claims for nearly $100,000 in medical equipment that was never delivered. Vanover recruited three other former NFL players and helped them file bogus claims for nearly $160,000 in total.
McCune, the Justice Department said, orchestrated the fraud, which included submitting about $2.9 million in false claims, for which the plan paid about $2.5 million between June 2017 and April 2018.
Cigna, the insurance company that administers the plan, detected claims for expensive medical equipment that set off alarms. According to Portis’ plea agreement, a January 2018 claim included Portis and McCune seeking reimbursement of $44,732 for a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. In another, from March 2018, they requested a reimbursement of $54,532 for a cryotherapy sauna. Portis, according to the plea agreement, was “aware of a strong likelihood that the allegations submitted by McCune on his behalf were false and fraudulent and deliberately ignored that fact.”
Portis and Vanover pleaded guilty two days after jurors in their case were unable to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was entered on some of the counts against Vanover. A new trial was due to begin this week.
Both former players will be sentenced in January and each face up to 10 years in prison, but will most likely receive significantly less, based on sentencing guidelines.
Jeffrey Darling, an attorney who represents Vanover, said in an interview that his client decided to plead guilty despite the hung jury in the first trial because jurors voted 11 to 1 to convict. On a second try, “we might not have been able to pull it off again,” Darling said.
Darling said Vanover admitted in a settlement that he provided the personal information of three former NFL players to Reche Caldwell, another former player who worked with McCune to file false claims. However, “the government was unable to produce any evidence at trial that Mr. Vanover personally facilitated the filing of the claims or that he himself received any money,” Darling said in a written statement. .
Portis’ attorney declined to comment.
McCune pleaded guilty early in the trial to all charges against him, including multiple counts of health care fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He will be sentenced on November 19 and could face what amounts to a life sentence, if all charges against him are included.
Five other former NFL players have been charged, including former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Horn. His son Jaycee, a cornerback, was drafted in the first round in April by the Carolina Panthers.
Horn and 11 other defendants charged in the case pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. One of them, Caldwell, died in June 2020.
Portis, 40, was by far the best known of the players. Drafted in the second round in 2002 by the Denver Broncos, he was voted offensive rookie of the year. He played 113 games in Denver and Washington and retired in 2010.
McCune, 42, was drafted in 2005 and played eight games as a linebacker for Washington and the Baltimore Ravens.
Vanover, 47, was drafted in 1995 by Kansas City. He played 77 games as a receiver for Kansas City and the Chargers.
All of the men were originally charged in December 2019.