Former Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter, along with nine other former NFL players, is facing charges of allegedly defrauding a health-care program created to benefit retired players out of more than $3 million, the U.S. Justice Department said in court documents.
Buckhalter, 41, of Colleyville, Texas, is described in court documents as an “orchestrator” in the scheme, and is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health-care fraud.
In the scheme, which the department alleged lasted from summer 2017 through December 2018, Buckhalter allegedly offered to submit fake claims to the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan — the health-care program for former players — in exchange for kickbacks and bribes, according to court documents. The program then paid reimbursements for the fraudulent claims.
At a news conference, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski described those charged as treating the health-care plan “like their own personal ATM."
The 10 players named in federal charges, filed in two indictments in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and made public Thursday, are Clinton Portis, Carlos Rogers, Robert McCune, John Eubanks, Tamarick Vanover, Ceandris Brown, James Butler, Frederick Bennett, Etric Pruitt, and Buckhalter.
The Justice Department also said in a news release that it intends to charge former NFL wide receivers Joe Horn and Reche Caldwell in the case.
Officials do not believe any current players were involved in the scam, Benczkowski said.
“It looks just like a traditional health-care fraud scheme,” he said. "You have a ringleader at the top, you have recruiters down below, and then you have what would normally be patients in a typical health-care fraud scheme. In this case, they were former NFL players.”
Through the schemes, outlined in two indictments, the former NFL players allegedly submitted $3.9 million in false claims, of which the plan paid out $3.4 million, Robert M. Duncan Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said at the news conference. In many cases, doctors never treated the people named on the forms, and items totaled more than $50,000 on a single claim.
There could be “wider implications,” Duncan said, such as the benefit plan’s loss of tax-exempt status, which could affect players lawfully using the $800 million health plan.
“The FBI will not tolerate stealing money meant for health care,” FBI Special Agent George Piro said at the news conference, “no matter who’s involved.”
Buckhalter and his co-conspirators, prosecutors allege, would then collect Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, insurance identification numbers, and date of births in order to submit fraudulent claims for expensive medical equipment like cryotherapy machines.
The fraudulent claims were detailed, describing the purchases along with an invoice claiming the medical equipment was sold to the person whose name was on the form. There were also a letter and prescription from a medical provider.
The forms purporting to be from physicians were forged, so there is no evidence the doctors knew about the scheme, Benczkowski said.
These claims were submitted around the country via fax to Lexington, Ky., and reviewed by Cigna employees in Lackawanna County, Pa., the documents say.
Once the submissions were complete, Buckhalter allegedly pretended to be the person named on the form in order to check the status of the reimbursement.
For a while, it worked, according to court documents, and the health plan paid more than $900,000 for the claims tied to Buckhalter.
No attorney for Buckhalter, who could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, was listed in court documents.
Buckhalter played seven seasons in the NFL, the first five with the Eagles, who drafted him in 2001 in the fourth round out of the University of Nebraska.
Buckhalter, who played behind Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook for most of his time with the Birds, accumulated 3,085 total yards from scrimmage — 4,354 for his career — and 22 total touchdowns over five seasons between 2001 and 2008. He missed the 2002, 2004, and 2005 seasons because of knee injuries.
The Eagles had no comment.
Buckhalter finished his career with the Denver Broncos in 2009 and 2010 before they released him.
Buckhalter signed contracts worth more than $15 million over his career, according to the sports-finances site Spotrac, though he was released before the end of his deal with the Broncos, so it’s not clear how much of that four-year, $10 million deal was paid.
Four of the charged players were arrested and six turned themselves in, officials said. A summons was issued for Buckhalter, who is scheduled to have an initial court appearance Jan. 2 in Lexington.
Staff writer Les Bowen contributed to this report.