By LARRY NEUMEISTER
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge sentenced a former first-round NBA draft pick to 10 years in prison Thursday, saying he used his people skills to entice others to aid his $5 million health care fraud after he “frittered away” substantial earnings from his professional career.
Terrence Williams, 36, of Seattle, was also ordered to forfeit more than $650,000 and to pay $2.5 million in restitution for ripping off the NBA’s Health and Welfare Benefit Plan between 2017 and 2021 with the help of a dentist in California and doctors in California and Washington state. Profits were generated by claims for fictitious medical and dental expenses.
Prosecutors said fraudulent invoices created by the medical professionals were processed by other people whom Williams recruited to defraud the plan, which provides health benefits to eligible active and former NBA players and their families.
“You were yet another player who frittered away substantial earnings from the period of time when you were playing basketball professionally,” Judge Valerie E. Caproni told him. “You should have had enough money to be set for life, but you don’t.”
Williams was picked No. 11 in the 2009 draft by what was then the New Jersey Nets. Before his career ended in 2013, he played for the Nets, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings.
Williams had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in a case that resulted in criminal charges against 18 former NBA players. So far, 13 have pleaded guilty to charges. Of those who have been sentenced, many have received “time served” or probation, meaning they didn’t have to go to prison. At least 10 of the ex-players paid kickbacks totaling about $230,000 to Williams, authorities said.
For the most part, the ex-players charged had journeyman careers playing for several different teams and never reached anywhere close to the enormous stardom or salary that top players command.
Still, the 18 players made a combined $343 million during their on-court NBA careers, not counting outside income, endorsements or what any may have made playing overseas.
Before the sentence was announced, Williams choked up repeatedly as he blamed his crime on “stupidity and greed” and said he regretted that his incarceration will keep him from his six children, two of whom are now adults.
“I one million percent take full accountability for my role in this case,” he said.
He added that he came to court “humble and humiliated” as he blamed his turn toward crime in part on an opioid addiction that developed after he took painkillers to cope with the pain of lingering injuries from his professional career.
The judge, though, said it appeared that he used his big personality to lure friends and others to join him in a scheme to steal money because he didn’t want to seek legitimate employment.
She said his behavior was “extortionate, aggressive.” And his motivation, she added, “was greed.”
“You think first and foremost about yourself and not others,” Caproni said.
She said she was going to require him to participate in a program that teaches how to manage money. As for what happened to his NBA earnings, she said: “My guess is it was just frittered away on stupid stuff.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said the defendant who played for Louisville in college recruited medical professionals and others to carry out a criminal conspiracy and maximize illegal profits.
“Williams not only lined his pockets through fraud and deceit, but he also stole the identities of others and threatened a witness to further his criminal endeavors. For his brazen criminal acts, Williams now faces years in prison.”
Williams has been incarcerated since May 2022, when prosecutors alleged that he sent threatening phone texts to a witness in the case.