How some of the NFL's biggest stars got taken for millions
The SEC accused Yetts of defrauding 13 other clients. He covered up his scheme, the agency said, by creating "sham letters and other documents" that led investors to believe he had transferred their funds to a money management company in California. Now 24, Winfield is suing Yetts, but his chances of recovering most of his losses seem slim: Yetts, who lives in suburban Columbus, filed for bankruptcy last July. "I kind of trusted him a lot," Winfield says. "We were real close; he seemed cool."
Cool he was. Like Winfield, Yetts, 31, was a star athlete at Ohio State, a 142-pound wrestler. He graduated in 1994 and met Winfield through another Ohio State football player in 1997, Winfield's sophomore year. In the interview with U.S. News, Winfield paints a picture of a close relationship fueled by cash and gifts.
Winfield says Yetts gave him money by losing on purpose in card games. "In college, we are broke, there's no money," he explains, "and if someone comes around and throws money in your face, you are going to take it." Winfield says he and Yetts went on trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas, courtesy of Yetts. "He was giving me suits" valued at $1,500 and free Ohio State football tickets that, Winfield says, he sold. "He was giving cash," Winfield went on. "If we needed the money, he would pay the rent." Winfield says he realized his acceptance of the gifts violated NCAA rules. "We knew it was illegal," he says, adding: "If you got caught, you would be in trouble."
Given that relationship, it wasn't surprising then that Winfield fired his agent and retained Yetts in 1999. But by the end of the following year, Winfield says, he began to suspect that Yetts might be cheating him. At the time, he says, Yetts lost about $30,000 playing craps at Winfield's house in Buffalo. The large gambling loss made Winfield wonder if his money was being mishandled by Yetts. He says he took his concerns to the Buffalo Bills' management, which ran a background check on Yetts. It turned up negative information, including a lawsuit filed against Yetts by a former NFL player.
Winfield has cooperated with the SEC investigation. His closest friend, Ashanti Webb, who worked as a recruiter for Yetts, says he has provided information to NFL security, the FBI, and the SEC about Yetts. He says Yetts always dealt in cash. And he confirmed Winfield's account about the craps game, "when," he says, Yetts "went up there [to Buffalo] and lost all the money in that little crap game."
Yetts isn't talking, but in a deposition in Winfield's lawsuit he denied having defrauded Winfield. He said he had lent money to Winfield when he was in college. And he made it clear he loved to gamble, winning more than $200,000 in total in 1999 and 2000. Now, he says, he is struggling to pay his bills. According to his lawyer, Samuel Shamansky, Yetts also is under federal criminal investigation in a drug conspiracy case in Columbus. Shamanksy says he expects his client to be indicted in that matter.