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’Canes great Portis, other ex-NFL players charged with defrauding healthcare program

Former Gators receiver Caldwell, Seminoles star Vanover also charged

Former Miami running back Clinton Portis walks onto the field before the game against Florida on Aug. 24, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.
Former Miami running back Clinton Portis walks onto the field before the game against Florida on Aug. 24, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Former Miami Hurricanes All-American Clinton Portis was one of 10 former NFL players charged with defrauding the league’s health care benefit program, the Justice Department said Thursday.

Others on the list include former Florida Gators receiver Reche Caldwell and Florida State Seminoles receiver Tamarick Vanover.

Prosecutors allege the players targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which was established as part of a collective bargaining agreement in 2006. It provides tax-free reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical care expenses that were not covered by insurance and that were incurred by former players, their spouses and dependents.

“As outlined in the indictments, a group of former players brazenly defrauded the plan by seeking reimbursements for expensive medical equipment that they never purchased,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who leads the Justice Department’s criminal division.

The players claimed to have purchased hyperbaric oxygen chambers, ultrasound machines and electromagnetic therapy devices that were designed to be used on horses, he said.

Prosecutors say the group’s alleged ringleaders, Robert McCune and Cornell Buckhalter — who they allege broke off to create his own similar ring — would recruit former players by offering to submit fake claims to the health care plan. The ringleaders would then demand thousands of dollars in kickbacks for each fake claim, prosecutors allege.

The suspects are accused of fabricating letters from health care providers about using the medical equipment, fabricating prescriptions that were purportedly signed by healthcare providers and creating fake invoices from medical equipment companies in an effort to prove the equipment was purchased, according to court documents. In reality, they had never purchased or received the medical equipment, prosecutors said.

Investigators believe the defendants had forged the prescriptions and authorization letters and uncovered no evidence that any doctors were complicit in the scheme, Benczkowski said.

After the phony claims were submitted, the former players would receive reimbursement checks and pay a kickback to the ringleaders and recruiters, the indictments charge.

Prosecutors moved to bring charges, in part because the scheme put the health care plan’s tax-exempt status at risk, which could’ve forced other former players using the plan legitimately to pay more, Benczkowski said.

Four of the suspects, McCune, Rogers, John Eubanks and Ceandris Brown, were arrested Thursday morning by the FBI. Six others had agreed to surrender to authorities, the Justice Department said. They are: James Butler, Fredrick Bennett, Etric Pruitt, Vanover, Portis and Buckhalter.

The Justice Department has also filed court papers in Kentucky noting that it plans to file charges against two other players as well, including Joe Horn, a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, and Caldwell.

The investigation was continuing, but because the plan involves only former players prosecutors do not expect any current NFL players to face charges, Benczkowski said.

Portis played at the University of Miami from 1999 through 2001 before spending nine seasons in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins.