Ex-NFL Player Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Nonprofits
"I'm very sorry. I made a mistake, and I intend to pay it back," Reggie Rucker told a Fox 8 Cleveland reporter after pleading guilty to wire fraud and making false statements to law enforcement last week.
The former Cleveland Browns wide receiver allegedly misappropriated money in the bank account of two nonprofits he oversaw. Authorities charged Rucker eight days prior to his Feb. 24 hearing, during which he agreed to a plea deal that could land him in prison for 21 to 27 months and force him to repay $95,000 to $150,000 in restitution, according to Fox 8 Cleveland.
The 68-year-old, who resides in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, allegedly used donations for Amer-I-Can Cleveland—a chapter of NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown's life skills training charity for which Rucker served as executive director—and Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, a collaboration of anti-violence groups that Rucker led as president, to fund his personal expenses; multiple gambling outings at casinos in Cleveland, Las Vegas and Tampa, Fla.; and $65,000 in debt he owed to Las Vegas casinos between 2012 and 2014. Authorities tracked Rucker withdrawing about $486,000 from the account, with varying amounts allegedly going toward various personal expenses. He also allegedly denied using the account for personal use when the FBI questioned him last year.
"I apologize," he told Fox 8 Cleveland when asked to address the donors from whom he stole money. "I hope they'll forgive me. I hope they'll give, at some point in time, give me another chance."
Rucker's sentencing is set for May 23. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said he likely will follow the sentencing recommendation from the plea agreement, according to Cleveland.com. Until his sentencing hearing, Rucker is free on bond.
Rucker's lawyer Michael Hennenberg acknowledged his client's gambling problem, but that Rucker thought he had repaid what he had taken.
"He thought he had made it right, but lost track completely," Hennenberg told ABC News.
Angel Arroyo, a member of Guardian Angels, an organization in the Peacemakers Alliance, has forgiven Rucker.
"I truly feel that he was sincere to it," Arroyo told Fox 8 Cleveland. "Reggie has a good heart, and every time I've seen him in the community, he's always attempted to do his best for the people that he met."
And he does not believe Rucker's actions have tarnished the alliance's name.
"I don't think it's damaged our credibility because those in the community know who were are, know that we've been in the community, with a paycheck or without a paycheck, so they know that we're still true to the game, we're still out in the streets of Cleveland," Arroyo said.