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What President Trump’s pardon could mean for Edward DeBartolo and his family

The former 49ers owner could have returned to football long ago. Around the time he moved to Tampa, he instead decided to turn his focus to the family business and local philanthropic efforts.
FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2016, file photo Pro Football Hall of Fame 2016 inductee Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., talks with reporters in Canton, Ohio. President Donald Trump pardoned DeBartolo, former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in gambling fraud scandal. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) [GENE J. PUSKAR  |  AP]
FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2016, file photo Pro Football Hall of Fame 2016 inductee Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., talks with reporters in Canton, Ohio. President Donald Trump pardoned DeBartolo, former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in gambling fraud scandal. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) [GENE J. PUSKAR | AP]

TAMPA — The executive pardon former 49ers owners and longtime Tampa resident Edward DeBartolo Jr. received from President Donald Trump on Tuesday has little impact on DeBartolo’s career moving forward.

DeBartolo has long had the opportunity to return to the NFL after serving a year-long suspension in 1999 following his felony conviction for not reporting a bribe by then-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards while DeBartolo was trying to obtain a riverboat gambling license.

He has instead refocused his efforts over the past two-plus decades on the family’s real estate holdings and philanthropic efforts locally and throughout the country.

As one of seven people pardoned on Tuesday, DeBartolo visited the White House with several supporters, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Jerry Rice and former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks.

Related: Trump pardons ex-49ers owner, Hillsborough County resident Edward DeBartolo Jr.

Any question regarding DeBartolo’s standing in the game was clarified in 2010, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to DeBartolo stating that discipline imposed on him had concluded and there were no prohibitions on him if he desired to own an NFL franchise, though he would have to go through the same process as any other potential owner to acquire a team.

DeBartolo, who transferred control of the team to his sister Denise DeBartolo York in a separation of the family’s assets, could have re-entered the game then if he wished, but did not. The commissioner’s letter, however, set forth DeBartolo’s case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he was inducted in 2016. The 49ers remain in the family’s control, as DeBartolo’s 40-year-old nephew Jed York is the team’s operating partner.

When DeBartolo was convicted in 1998, he avoided jail time by agreeing to testify against Edwards and his son in a larger FBI gambling probe. He received two years probation and was fined $1 million. The NFL suspended him for the 1999 season and fined him $250,000.

DeBartolo, who turned 73 in December, has always been a strong candidate for a pardon. DeBartolo and Trump know each other well from business and sports circles dating back decades. In the 1980′s DeBartolo’s father, Edward, Sr., owned the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers and Trump owned the New Jersey Generals.

The pardon allows DeBartolo the right to vote, travel to Canada and legally carry a firearm.

Since moving to Tampa in 1999 following the case, DeBartolo had made a philanthropic impact locally. He has invested $17 million into the DeBartolo Family Foundation, which supports Tampa Bay area grassroots organizations, in its nearly two decades of existence. Along with Brooks, he founded the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, a consistent A-rated charter school in Tampa.

His contributions helped the Moffitt Cancer Center and established the DeBartolo Family Personalized Medicine Institute. The DeBartolo Family Animal Shelter, a state-of-the-art facility made for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, is slated to open next year in Tampa. And his contributions helped the advocacy group Grey2K USA Worldwide end greyhound racing in several states, including Florida.

While the family’s fortune was built through the Edward DeBartolo Sr. shopping malls, DeBartolo holdings now concentrate mostly on residential properties, hotels and commercial real estate. Its current local projects include the Isles of Old Tampa Bay waterfront development in South Tampa.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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