How some of the NFL's biggest stars got taken for millions
Rice, who received a $6 million signing bonus on a four-year, $15 million contract, soon invested in several proposed apartment and condo development projects. The projects, however, never got off the ground. Rice lost his investment. He also lost $100,000 after investing in a Lukens scheme to market a video of highlights from the old television show The Newlywed Game. According to the SEC, Lukens raised $630,000 from 12 investors, promising a 20 percent profit within a year. Actually, Lukens invested only $100,000 in the scheme, diverting "at least some of the remaining $530,000," the SEC charged. Rice says he felt blindsided. "On a street level," Rice says, "you can see the [hustlers] coming." But "this is white collar--this is something you can't see. It is like a cancer; you don't know until it is there." The moral of the story is simple. "Like my father told me," he says, "trust very little that you see and nothing that you hear."
Some players were luckier, losing far less or choosing not to go with Lukens. According to Marvin Demoff, a prominent sports agent in Los Angeles, one of his clients wanted to invest with Lukens but reluctantly backed away after Demoff and the player's father strongly advised against it. He identified the client as Jonathan Ogden, now a star offensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens. Demoff met with Lukens and didn't like what he saw. Another NFL client, despite Demoff's warnings, signed up with Lukens and lost $80,000, the agent says. Some players "don't have the experience to understand the difference between a true investment manager," Demoff says, "and a guy just trying to make a buck" off them.
The past year has been tough on Lukens. His lost his mansion and is separated from his wife. Last spring, he spent nearly a month in jail for bouncing $240,000 in checks at three Las Vegas casinos.
Antoine Winfield's story is one that should give every new NFL hotshot heartburn. Coming out of Ohio State University in 1999, he was rated the top defensive back in the nation, a small but tough player who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and delivered bone-crunching tackles. Selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, he received a $3.5 million signing bonus. When Winfield decided to invest some of the money, he turned to a close friend, his agent and financial adviser, a man named Dunyasha Mon Yetts. Bad decision.
According to an SEC complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Columbus, Ohio, in December, Yetts cheated Winfield out of $1.35 million. The agency says that Yetts repeatedly lied to the Buffalo cornerback, once telling him that he had generated more than $68,000 in profits for Winfield in less than four weeks of stock trading. The SEC described a simple scheme. Yetts, it says, took Winfield's money and put it into his own personal and business accounts. Yetts paid Winfield's bills, such as country club dues and credit card charges, and traded in securities accounts listed in the names of his companies. Once, "Yetts withdrew $130,000" from a money market fund, the SEC says, "and deposited those checks into his personal account."