Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers placekicker Donald Igwebuike is being investigated in connection with drug-smuggling allegations, ABC News reported Tuesday night. ABC, quoting anonymous law enforcement sources, reported that the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa has "irrefutable evidence" linking Igwebuike to an attempt to smuggle heroin into the United States from his native Nigeria.
The player's name surfaced about two weeks ago when a Nigerian was arrested by customs agents in Orlando, ABC said.
Maduwuba Ibekwe, 31, a part-time teacher and taxi driver in Tampa, was arrested at Orlando International Airport on Oct. 11 when U.S. Customs officials determined he was carrying heroin pellets in his stomach.
The ABC report quoted sources as saying that Igwebuike bought Ibekwe's plane ticket and participated in phone conversations which indicated he was aware of the drug deal.
U.S. Customs officials obtained a search warrant Tuesday for Igwebuike's apartment in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, ABC said.
Igwebuike's attorney, Larry E. Reed, said Tuesday night that his client was not involved: "Our client was contacted by the authorities, who are taking a look at certain individuals that our client knew. These individuals got into trouble. Donald was questioned by authorities about those individuals. We understand the other individuals have been charged with offenses. Our client has not."
"I've got a problem with what has come out here," Reed continued. "Such a disclosure, because of sensationalism and trial by media, is inappropriate. They must not have irrefutable evidence or our client would have been charged."
Igwebuike, now with the Minnesota Vikings, worked out at their Eden Prairie practice facility on Tuesday. ABC said he confirmed that he was the subject of an investigation, but wouldn't answer specific questions. "This isn't supposed to be news yet," Igwebuike said. "Talk to my attorney."
Igwebuike was interviewed by customs agents from Tampa last week, his attorney said. "He cooperated. He said yes, he knew him," Reed said. "This was the individual who has been charged. I saw their files and there was no mention of Donald anywhere in there. They referred to a tape of a conversation in Edo language. (Edo is a dialect spoken in southern Nigeria.) I had someone listen to it and was told there was no mention of any activity in which Donald was involved."
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune quoted unnamed sources in today's editions who said that Igwebuike acknowledged an association with Ibekwe, who was to deliver a cashier's check for $12,000 to the kicker's parents in Nigeria.
(It has been reported before that Igwebuike frequently sent money to his family.)
According to the sources, Igwebuike's parents have said they received the check. When Ibekwe was arrested, the Star-Tribune reported, he had the check receipt.
That was Thursday, Oct. 11. Federal agents said Ibekwe swallowed several pellets of heroin wrapped in electrical tape before he flew to Orlando from Amsterdam.
According to a Customs official's affidavit, Ibekwe aroused suspicions "when he couldn't produce any of the food that he listed on a declaration form when he entered the country. He then told inspectors he wanted to revise the forms.
"Ibekwe was then taken into a private interview room and searched. (Inspectors) found three pellets _ covered with feces and wrapped in a paper towel _ in Ibekwe's pants."
Customs investigators took Ibekwe to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where they guarded him around the clock for four days until the evidence appeared.
On Oct. 15, U.S. Magistrate Donald Dietrich ordered Ibekwe returned to Tampa and held without bail. Reached Tuesday night at the Hillsborough County Jail, where he has been since Oct. 19, Ibekwe declined comment. He is waiting to stand trial for smuggling heroin.
Ibekwe drives a taxi on weekends and has served as a substitute teacher in Hillsborough County since 1989, an Orlando court officer said. Ibekwe is a mathematics student at the University of Tampa who needs 12 credit hours to graduate.
Ibekwe lives in Carrollwood Springs with his girlfriend who, according to the court officer, had his child while he was in Nigeria.
Igwebuike, 29, spent five years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the Vikings signed him this season.
"We have not been contacted by federal authorities. We have talked with Donald Igwebuike and his attorney about the matter. We have contacted the National Football League and they are looking into the allegations," the Vikings said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening.
The Vikings said any decisions on Igwebuike's playing status would be made by the NFL. The Vikings and NFL officials had no other comment.
Igwebuike's former employers _ Bucs coach Ray Perkins and team owner Hugh Culverhouse _ also had no comment Tuesday night.
Igwebuike has made 75.54 percent of his field-goal attempts, fourth-best in NFL history. He has 464 career points.
He was cut by Tampa Bay before the season after spending five years establishing himself as one of the league's most dependable kickers. With 416 points, he was the Bucs' all-time scoring leader.
Tampa coach Ray Perkins said Igwebuike was released in favor of rookie Steve Christie because Christie had a stronger leg, especially when it came to kickoffs. The Vikings claimed Igwebuike off waivers.
Igwebuike _ who is 47 of 47 from 34 yards or less and who has missed only four of 73 kicks inside the 40 _ has continued his solid kicking in Minnesota.
He has missed only one of 12 field goals but, ironically, it cost the Vikings a game against Tampa Bay. He shanked a 48-yarder that would have won it in overtime and Christie followed with a winning kick.
_ Staff writers Gary Shelton, Rick Stroud and Bill Duryea contributed to this report.