Fraud of the Month: Pro athletes enmeshed in scams as victims, perpetrators

Marcus Buckley had a decent NFL career as a linebacker who made his living from helmet-jarring collisions with running backs. His seven-year stint came mostly with the New York Giants.

Yet perhaps Buckley’s biggest and baddest opponent double-teamed him the hardest — federal prosecutors. The Texas man inflated workers-compensation claims for lingering injuries that dogged him for years after he retired following the 2000 season. Buckley’s now benched, spending two years in federal prison.

Insurance fraud is hardly a contact sport, yet pro athletes can be enmeshed in scams — unwisely as perpetrators, sometimes regretfully as victims. They’re the tiny minority of pro athletes, though their high public profile attracts unusually high attention to their fraud crimes.

Claimed built-up stress injuries

As for Buckley … he sought money from the Giants’ workers-compensation insurer for built-up stress injuries — including memory loss — from all the seasons of head-knocking. He settled for $300,000 in 2010, and the case seemed closed.

Not quite. Buckley dipped back into the well, demanding more insurance money. He handed the insurer nearly $1.6 million of forged medical invoices and statements from medical providers for treatment he never received. Buckley also created false collection notices from credit-collection agencies that supposedly were chasing past-due medical bills.

Buckley had a crooked Sacramento adjuster on the take; she issued him the insurance checks. The feds issued Buckley two years in prison in January 2018, and ordered him to repay the stolen insurance money.

Paid kickbacks in $20-million con

Monty Grow played linebacker briefly for the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. His post-NFL career was far more lucrative, until the feds tackled him for a loss.

Grow made millions by paying illegal kickbacks to associates who recruited hundreds of patients to a Pompano Beach pharmacy. That outfit allegedly bilked the federal military health insurer out of $20 million by charging for expensive compound creams that patients typically didn’t need.

Grow was convicted of fraud and kickbacks. He could spend up to 20 years in federal prison when convicted. Former NFL journeyman quarterback Shane Matthews received three months in federal prison for a smaller role as one of Grow’s associates.

Altered date of uninsured collision

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Ted Lilly made a phony damage claim for his RV.

The Edna Valley, Calif. man pitched for six Major League teams over 15 years. Lilly finished up with the Los Angeles Dodgers after signing a 3-year, $33 million contract in 2010.

Lilly damaged his uninsured RV in a collision and obtained a $4,600 repair estimate from a body shop. He bought a policy from Progressive Insurance five days later, then lied that the wreck happened after he bought the insurance. Lilly pleaded no contest and lucked out with two years of probation plus 200 hours of community service.

Falsely claimed jeweled ring stolen

Brent Dwayne Griffith had a brief NFL career as an offensive lineman with the Buffalo Bills. His post-football antics proved offensive as well.

The Benson, Minn. man earned a jewel-encrusted ring when the Bills won the divisional title in 1990. Years later, Griffith claimed someone stole the ring from his home. His homeowner policy covered the seeming theft, paying him $4,780 in 2013.

Griffith and his wife then split up. None too pleased, she told the insurer that Griffith still had the ring. He also cashed the insurance check, which was made out to them both, without telling her. The Minnesota state fraud bureau took over, and helped convict Benson. He earned a lifetime criminal record, plus a tiny two days in county jail, and a hefty fine.

Trusting athletes defrauded

Sometimes insurance thievery happens in reverse — athletes are soaked by people they allow into their inner circle.

The nanny of a star left winger for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins looted his family jewelry then filed loss claims for the stuff after setting her home on fire. Andrea Forsythe stole $12,000 diamond earrings that Chris Kunitz gave to his wife Maureen for a wedding anniversary.

Forsythe had the jewelry appraised, then made the insurance claims after her arson fire. She also double-dipped, selling a loose diamond from one earring to a jewelry store. Forsythe was handed five years in federal prison for these and other thefts.

Insurance agent Keven D. Webster took premiums from NFL and NBA players, promising to buy them umbrella policies worth $1 million-$5 million. Except the Pensacola, Fla. agent pocketed their money and never bought the promised insurance. A federal judge promised Webster 21 months in prison, and ordered him to repay $144,229.

Lilly, at least, says he plans to go straight. “My actions do not reflect the way I choose to live,” he told the court after being sentenced. “I am very much determined to earn back a reputation of trust and transparency.”