Eighteen former NBA players have been charged with the federal felony offense of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, in addition to a charge for aggravated identity theft. The players are accused of submitting false invoices to health care providers in a scheme to defraud the collectively bargained Health and Welfare Benefit Plan, which is intended to provide financial benefits to retired players who have legitimate and serious health issues.
The charges are detailed in a 32-page indictment filed by U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in the Southern District of New York. A conviction on the conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while aggravated ID theft carries a two-year sentence. Prosecutors contend that, over the course of the scheme, the players submitted false claims totaling $3.9 million, which led to unwarranted payments of about $2.5 million.
Terrence Williams, who played for the Nets, is accused of emailing false and fraudulent dental office emails for a group of players, including Ruben Patterson, Glen Davis and Jamario Moon, in 2018 and 2019. Williams is portrayed as taking kickbacks from the players, whom prosecutors describe as his co-conspirators.
According to the government, the invoices showed, for example, that former NBA player Greg Smith received IV sedation and endodontic therapy (root canals) and crowns on eight teeth while he was out of the country, traveling to Taiwan. In fact, box scores showed he played for the 2018 Bank of Taiwan basketball team while he was allegedly receiving dental services.
Davis, who played for the Celtics, allegedly schemed to claim that he received crowns on eight teeth at a dental office in Beverly Hills for $27,000. The government claims he wasn’t in California on that date and says flight records show that Davis took a flight from Las Vegas to Paris. The indictment references geolocation data taken from Davis’s cellphone. According to Basketball Reference, Davis earned $34.4 million in his eight-year NBA career from 2007 to 2015.
Another former Celtic, Milt Palacio, is also accused of wrongful conduct. Palacio, a reserve guard in the 2000s who gained brief fame for a last-second shot to beat the Nets, earned $5 million over 7 NBA seasons. Yet in 2019, prosecutors contend, he submitted invoices containing “the same invoice numbers, same service dates, same treatments and the same dollar amounts,” as another former NBA player, Melvin Ely.
Prosecutors also noticed that players had a suspicious pattern of submitting invoices for many of “the same purported procedures on the same teeth on the same dates.” To illustrate, the indictment says that Davis, Tony Wroten and Tony Allen each had endodontic therapy on the same six teeth on the same date, and crowns on the same six teeth on another shared date.
The players will have an opportunity to defend themselves and challenge the accusations.
In a statement, the NBA stressed that it will “cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the matter.” It also underscored that the benefit plans at issue “are critically important to support [players’] health and well-being . . . which makes these allegations particularly disheartening.” The NBPA, meanwhile, issued a statement acknowledging that the union is aware of the indictment and pledging to “continue to monitor the matter.”
(The story was updated to include statements from the NBA and NBPA, and more details from the indictment.)