ORLANDO, Fla. - The player once known for fourth-and-26 might soon be known for 10 years behind bars, but he is hoping a judge will show mercy because of his work-related injuries.
Former Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who was convicted in an elaborate tax fraud scheme in which he cheated the government out of millions of dollars, is claiming that brain injuries caused by playing football spurred him to commit the crime.
Wearing a dark suit, Mitchell, 34, a Lakeland, Fla., native, spoke Thursday in court about his health problems and of receiving numerous concussions from playing football, including during his 4 years with the Eagles. "It's been a challenge" to admit to health problems, he said.
"I am truly sorry, and I take responsibility for my actions," Mitchell said, his voice cracking with emotion.
He talked about having notepads around his home to help him remember things and experiencing painful headaches. "I don't really sleep a lot," he said.
Mitchell's girlfriend, Patricia Jarmoc, also came to the hearing and spoke on Mitchell's behalf. "He's a great guy," she said. "He's very giving and lovable."
She testified that Mitchell can lose track of his thoughts in a conversation.
In a sentencing memorandum, Mitchell's lawyer, Rick L. Jancha, also argued his client has physical and mental disabilities from his years spent playing football. Mitchell's attorneys also had U.S. District Judge John Antoon II watch a 2-hour documentary about the link between the NFL and brain injuries.
Mitchell's role in the scheme was to recruit athletes as clients for a tax-return service run by Jamie and Richard Walls. The scheme came to light after he recruited Milwaukee Bucks forward Drew Gooden, according to a civil suit. Gooden became friends with Mitchell when both lived in central Florida.
Mitchell said the Walls brothers got him a $1 million tax return. Gooden met with the brothers and later wrote a $100,000 check for the return.
Mitchell would not give him a copy of the return. It had a fake business loss totaling $5.3 million and falsely claimed a $2 million refund.
Gooden did not know the phony return was filed and filed a legal return. But when the Internal Revenue Service got the real return, it had already mailed the $2 million refund to the Walls brothers.
Paul Sweeney III, an accountant for Mitchell and a friend, wrote in a letter that Mitchell lost much of his "football fortune" to bad business decisions.
Sweeney described Mitchell as an outgoing, fun-loving man who can be easily misled.
In March, Mitchell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to file a false claim with the government. The maximum punishment is 10 years in prison. Court records indicate Mitchell's potential prison range is estimated between 37 to 46 months.