Former NFL Players Plead Guilty to Defrauding Fellow Players’ Health Care Program

by Suzanne Halliburton

Former NFL players, including running back Clinton Portis, have pleaded guilty for their part in defrauding an NFLPA healthcare fund of almost $4 million.

Portis agreed to a plea deal after a jury in Kentucky couldn’t come up with a verdict. A second trial was scheduled to start Tuesday (Sept. 7). Portis will be sentenced, Jan. 6. He pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud. He could receive a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Portis, as part of the plea deal, admitted to being part of a nationwide system of bilking the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan. The medical plan covers unreimbursed, out-of-pocket health care costs for former NFL players.

USA Today reported that Portis allowed Robert McCune, another former NFL player, to file a claim on his behalf for $99,264. Portis said he needed the money for medical equipment — an oxygen chamber and cryosauna. Yet he never bought the equipment.

Authorities Believe McCune Was at Center of Scheme with Former NFL Players

Federal authorities believe that McCune, a two-time captain at Louisville who played for Washington in the NFL, was the central figure in the scheme. He accepted a plea deal last month, one day before Portis’ first trial was set to start.

The plea agreement Portis signed said that he knew the claims McCune filed “were false and fraudulent or was aware of a high probability that that the claims … “were false and fraudulent and deliberately ignored that fact.”

Portis turned 40 earlier this month. He starred at the University of Miami. The Denver Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft. And he started for seven seasons with Washington. Portis made the Pro Bowl twice and he had three seasons of at least 1,500 yards rushing.

Other former NFL players who have pleaded guilty include running back Correll Buckhalter and receiver Joe Horn. Buckhalter played for the Philadelphia Eagles, while Horn starred for the New Orleans Saints. Horn made four Pro Bowls and served as the face of the Saints after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area.

The NFLPA established the Gene Upshaw fund in 2006. It allows former NFL players and their families to seek tax-free reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs for healthcare. Each player is eligible for as much as $350,000. The fund was named for Upshaw, the longtime executive director of the NFLPA, the players union. Upshaw also was a former NFL player. He was a star offensive lineman with the Oakland Raiders. He earned induction in 1987 into the NFL Hall of Fame. Upshaw died in 2008.

Prosecutors allege that as many as 15 former NFL players filed for more than $3.9 million in fraudulent claims during an 18-month period in 2017-18. The players were charged in the Eastern District of Kentucky.