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4 People Accused of $13 Million in Pro Athlete Fraud Schemes

New York Times

Four people were arrested Thursday and charged with collectively defrauding four professional men’s basketball players out of more than $13 million, according to Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In one scheme, three players were allegedly persuaded to purchase more than $5 million worth of life insurance policies at an enormous markup. In another, a fourth player spent $7 million to buy a women’s professional basketball team, but prosecutors said the money never went toward a purchase. In the third scheme, a player spent $1 million to fund a player representation agency that never existed, according to the indictment.

“These defendants believed that defrauding their professional athlete clients of millions of dollars would be a layup,” Williams said in a statement. “That was a huge mistake, and they now face serious criminal charges for their alleged crimes.”

Darryl Cohen, Brian Gilder, Charles Briscoe and Calvin Darden Jr. were each charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Cohen, who was formerly a broker at Morgan Stanley, was also charged with one count of investment adviser fraud. Briscoe, who was formerly a certified N.B.A. agent, was also charged with one count of aggravated identify theft.

Cohen, Gilder, Briscoe and Darden could not be reached for comment, and court filings did not list lawyers for any of them. Brandon Reif, a lawyer who previously represented Cohen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

In a statement, Morgan Stanley, where Cohen worked from 2015 to 2021, said he had been “terminated” in March 2021 and had since been barred from the securities industry. “We fully cooperated with the investigation and have resolved clients’ claims related to Mr. Cohen,” a spokeswoman for the firm said.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also filed a civil complaint against Cohen.

The identities of the professional athletes that prosecutors say were defrauded were not released. But many of the details of the life insurance scheme appear to match claims made by Jrue and Lauren Holiday, Chandler Parsons and Courtney Lee, who previously described allegations of being defrauded by Cohen to The New York Times.

Jrue Holiday plays for the N.B.A.’s Milwaukee Bucks, and Lauren Holiday, his wife, is a former professional soccer player. Parsons and Lee are former N.B.A. players. They all said they had filed claims against Cohen with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees brokerage firms.

According to the indictment, between about 2017 and 2020, Cohen and Gilder induced three N.B.A. players to purchase about $6.2 million in life insurance policies, from which Cohen and Gilder “secretly profited” about $4.5 million. Cohen allegedly gave about $200,000 of the money to a person with whom he was in a romantic relationship and used the other funds to pay off a former professional baseball player who was threatening to sue him, to pay his credit card bill, and to renovate his home, according to prosecutors.

Another plan involved purchasing a women’s professional basketball team, according to the indictment. An N.B.A. player had wanted to purchase the team, but was forbidden from doing so by the N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement.

The player discussed an “arrangement” with Briscoe, Darden and others, in which the player would indirectly buy the team through a company controlled by one of Darden’s relatives, prosecutors said. The player transferred $7 million to a bank account, which was controlled by Darden, to purchase the team. But instead, prosecutors said, Darden transferred more than $1 million to Briscoe and more than $500,000 to a relative, then spent the rest on cryptocurrencies, a house, luxury cars, art and a piano.

Cohen, Briscoe and Darden are also accused of defrauding an N.B.A. player who wanted to start a player representation agency that he would run after he retired, according to court filings. The player gave Briscoe $1 million so the agency could pay expenses involved with signing a highly touted prospect. But prosecutors said the prospect never signed with the agency, and that the purported contract he signed was forged. The money allegedly was transferred to Briscoe, who paid off a debt and gave some of it to Darden, according to the indictment.