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Five players with Mississippi ties charged in multi-million-dollar fraud scheme

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Among the former NFL players charged in a fraud scheme is Clinton Portis, pictured, who grew up in Laurel, Miss. Photo by DrivingtheNortheast - https://www.flickr.com/photos/drivingthenortheast/6189844205/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20642540.

Five football players with connections to Mississippi are among 10 former NFL players charged in a multi-million-dollar health insurance fraud.

Among those charged or under investigation are four men who played high school or college football in Mississippi: Joe Horn, Correll Buckhalter, John Eubanks and Etric Pruitt. Additionally, former NFL running back Clinton Portis was born and grew up in Laurel, Miss., the Clarion Ledger reports.

The U.S. Justice Department in the Eastern District of Kentucky charged all 10 former players for their alleged roles in a nationwide fraud on a health care benefit program for retired NFL players.

The alleged fraud targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which provides tax-free reimbursements for out-of-pocket medical-care expenses not covered by insurance. The plan covers former players, their wives and their dependents up to $350,000 per player.

According to the charging documents, the suspects submitted more than $3.9 million in false and fraudulent claims, on which the plan paid out more than $3.4 million between June 2017 and December 2018.

“Ten former NFL players allegedly committed a brazen, multi-million-dollar fraud on a health-care plan meant to help their former teammates and other retired players pay legitimate, out-of-pocket medical expenses,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski in a statement. “Today’s indictments underscore that whoever you are, if you loot health care programs to line your own pockets, you will be held accountable by the Department of Justice.”

“The defendants are alleged to have developed and executed a fraudulent scheme to undermine a health care benefit plan established by the NFL – one established to help their former teammates and colleagues pay for legitimate medical expenses,” said U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr., for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “The defendants allegedly submitted false claims to the plan and obtained money for expensive medical equipment that was never purchased or received, depriving that plan of valuable resources to help others meet their medical needs. We have prioritized the investigation and prosecution of health care fraud in our office, and we appreciate the partnership we share with the Criminal Division and the FBI in pursuing these important matters.”

“This investigation serves as an illustration of the rampant and deliberate scams against health care plans occurring daily throughout the country,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the Miami Field Office. “In this case, these fraudsters pocketed money from the Gene Upshaw National Football League Health Reimbursement Account Plan that was intended for former NFL players who are ill or infirm. Over 20 FBI field offices participated in this investigation which demonstrates the level of commitment we have to rooting out this type of fraud.”

Two separate indictments outline two alleged conspiracies involving different players, but both are related to the same scheme to defraud the plan. Those charged in the indictments are the following:

  • Robert McCune, 40, of Riverdale, Ga., is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, nine counts of wire fraud and nine counts of health care fraud.
  • John Eubanks, 36, of Cleveland, Miss.; Tamarick Vanover, 45, of Tallahassee, Fla; and Carlos Rogers, 38, of Alpharetta, Ga., are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of health care fraud.
  • Clinton Portis, 38, of McLean, Va.; Ceandris Brown, 36, of Fresno, Texas; James Butler, 37, of Atlanta, Ga.; and Fredrick Bennett, 35, of Port Wentworth, Ga., are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of health care fraud.
  • Correll Buckhalter, 41, of Colleyville, Texas, and Etric Pruitt, 38, of Theodore, Ala., are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health-care fraud.

In addition, the government has filed notice that it intends to file criminal informations charging Joseph Horn, 47, of Columbia, S.C., and Donald “Reche” Caldwell, 40, of Tampa, Fla., with conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

The indictments charge that the suspects filed false and fraudulent claims for expensive medical equipment – typically between $40,000 and $50,000 for each claim – that was never purchased or received. The equipment included hyperbaric oxygen chambers, cryotherapy machines, ultrasound machines designed for use by a doctor’s office to conduct women’s health examinations and electromagnetic therapy devices designed for use on horses.

According to the indictments, McCune, Eubanks, Vanover, Buckhalter, Rogers and others recruited other players into the scheme by offering to submit false claims in exchange for kickbacks and bribes that ranged from a few thousand dollars to $10,000 or more per claim submitted. As part of the scheme, the defendants allegedly fabricated supporting documentation for the claims, including invoices, prescriptions and letters of medical necessity. After the claims were submitted, McCune and Buckhalter allegedly called the telephone number provided by the plan and impersonated other players to check on the status of the false and fraudulent claims.

Crime

Handgun stolen in auto burglary

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A handgun was stolen in an auto burglary Monday in Vicksburg.

Monday, Nov. 30, at 10:34 a.m. officers took a report in reference to an auto burglary that occurred at 3133 Washington St.

The victim reported someone stole a SCCY 9-mm handgun from his 2000 GMC Sierra.

If you have any information about this incident, please call the Vicksburg Police Department at 601-636-2511.

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Crime

Shooting suspect turns herself in

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Devona Jackson (photo courtesy VPD)

The suspect in a Nov. 25 shooting turned herself in to Vicksburg police investigators Monday.

Devona Jackson, 36, of Vicksburg, was charged with one count of shooting into an unoccupied vehicle in connection with an altercation at the Smoke Break convenience store, 1217 Cherry St., on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Jackson was arraigned in the Vicksburg Municipal Court, where Judge Angela Carpenter set her bond at $15,000 and bound her over to the Warren County grand jury.

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Crime

Chase suspect’s bond set at $50,000 for felony elude

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Bonjara O'Quinn (photo by David Day)

Bonjara O’Quinn, who led Vicksburg police on a chase that ended in Claiborne County Saturday, was arraigned in Vicksburg Municipal Court Monday.

The chase, which began in Vicksburg with a domestic disturbance, ended when O’Quinn crashed his rental car attempting to make a turn. The car then burst into flames. Police were able to get O’Quinn out of the car safely, although he suffered some minor injuries when the air bags deployed.

O’Quinn, 28, of Maywood, Illinois, near Chicago, appeared before Judge Angela Carpenter charged with one count of felony elude. Carpenter set his bond at $50,000 and bound him over to the Warren County grand jury. He was also charged with a number of misdemeanor charges in connection with the incident including domestic violence.

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