Two years after he was indicted for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his foundation and almost eight months after he pled guilty to falsifying tax returns and aggravated identity theft, former NBA player Kermit Washington was sentenced to six years in federal prison.
“This former NBA player abused his fame and status to promote a charity scam by which he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that he diverted to personal spending on lavish vacations, shopping sprees, and even plastic surgery for his girlfriend,” Tim Garrison, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a statement. “Although he told his donors that 100 percent of all donations would go to support charitable work in Africa, including a medical clinic for needy families and HIV-positive children, in fact he spent most of the donated funds on himself. His fraud scheme also victimized law-abiding taxpayers by stealing from the public treasury rather than paying taxes owed.”
The Associated Press first reported news of Washington’s prison sentence.
Washington, 66, has been ordered to pay $967,158 in restitution. A 1980 NBA All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers, Washington was perhaps best known for fracturing former Houston Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich’s face as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers during an on-court fight in 1977 — a punch that cost him a $100,000 fine and his team $3.3 million in damages for the resulting lawsuit.
Investigators discovered Washington’s recent criminal activity as part of an investigation into a piracy scheme “in excess of $100 million worth of illicit, unauthorized and counterfeit software products,” per the U.S. Attorney’s Office. His charity, The Sixth Man Foundation, along with Project Contact Africa, sold the pirated software on eBay, claiming “100 percent” of the proceeds went to charitable efforts.
“Washington admitted that he diverted funds from the charity’s bank account to pay himself or for personal spending, such as rent, credit card payments, vacation trips and plastic surgery for his then-girlfriend,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release announcing the sentence on Monday. “Washington claimed to pay the rent and school fees for a family in Africa when, in fact, these payments were to a former prostitute, and rose and fell depending on their level of sexual intimacy.”
In 2011, still trying to escape the perception of him from the Tomjanovich punch, Washington told The Oregonian that the inspiration for his charitable work in Africa stemmed from a 1994 humanitarian mission to a refugee camp during the Rwandan Civil War that he called “a sight I’ll never forget.”
“What it is, honestly, is I don’t like to see people abused or taken advantage of,” Washington told the paper seven years ago. “I’ve been the same ever since I was a kid. I don’t like bullies. I think poverty is a bully. Disease is a bully. Corruption is a bully. Growing up, I loved Robin Hood and Zorro and all the stories about people helping other people.
“Even though people say this and that, I’ve been very fortunate in life. I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks and I had a lot of people who helped me. I’ve always been a very giving person. It’s just in my nature. And when I go overseas and work, I feel like I’m doing something.”
Washington played for five different teams from 1973-87, mostly with the Lakers and Blazers. Since 1977, it was hard to imagine Washington’s career taking an even darker turn. Sadly, it seems it has.
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