CLEVELAND (AP) — Former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Reggie Rucker was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in prison for stealing from two charities, a crime his attorney blamed on a gambling addiction caused by football-related brain injuries.
Rucker, 68, pleaded guilty in February to wire fraud and false statement charges after an FBI investigation found that he had stolen more than $100,000 from the two groups, with much of the money withdrawn from ATMs at casinos in Cleveland, Las Vegas and elsewhere. Rucker withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank accounts he oversaw, authorities said.
Prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday that Rucker would solicit donations and then use the money to pay off markers at casinos as well as personal expenses. The diversions occurred between 2011 and 2015, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ordered Rucker to pay $110,000 in restitution, money that is expected to come from Rucker’s share of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL for hiding concussion risks.
Defense attorney Michael Hennenberg said after the sentencing hearing on Wednesday that Rucker’s gambling addiction resulted from poor impulse control, a condition caused by atrophy in a portion of his brain’s frontal lobe.
“Reggie never offered that as an excuse,” Hennenberg said, adding that Rucker has been in treatment the last two years for his gambling addiction and his brain injuries.
Rucker had been a popular figure in Cleveland for decades after spending seven of his 11 seasons in the NFL with the Browns. He also played for the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
His post-football career appeared to be successful as well. He worked six seasons as an analyst for regional broadcasts of NFL games in the 1980s and three seasons as a color analyst for locally televised Cleveland Indians baseball games.
His star status was further embellished by what appeared to be his good deeds, including his role as executive director of Amer-I-Can Cleveland, an offshoot of a nonprofit organization created by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to help inner-city youth, and with Peacemakers’ Alliance, a collaboration of local groups that uses street workers to quell violence.
“He will spend the rest of his life trying to make up for what he did wrong,” Hennenberg said. “He hopes people will allow him to earn the respect back.”
Rucker still faces misdemeanor assault and menacing charges that were filed after a man told police that Rucker grabbed him by the throat and threatened to shoot him during a dispute over etiquette at a suburban Cleveland golf course.
He was allowed to remain free until the federal Bureau of Prisons determines where he will serve his sentence.