1. Sports

Nine Florida football players, 62 felony complaints in fraud scandal

Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs the ball during the Outback Bowl in January at Raymond James Stadium. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
Published Sep. 26, 2017

GAINESVILLE — The fraud scandal that has engulfed the University of Florida's nationally ranked football team for weeks exploded Monday with the first detailed accounts of criminal accusations that threaten to derail the Gators' season.

Nine players face a combined 62 felony complaints on suspicion of using stolen credit cards to rack up more than $17,000 in fraudulent charges, according to documents released Monday.

All nine — including standout receiver Antonio Callaway and top running back Jordan Scarlett — remain indefinitely suspended as the State Attorney's Office reviews the case and weighs formal charges. The process could take "several weeks at a minimum," said State Attorney Bill Cervone.

"I don't have to reinvent the wheel," Cervone said, "but there's still a lot of details that need to be tracked down."

While Cervone said the cases are fairly routine, some of the details released Monday from the University of Florida Police Department's investigation are jaw-dropping for a 2-1 football team that leads the SEC East and is vying for a third consecutive division title.

The case began when UF noticed several disputed charges on the bookstore debit accounts of defensive lineman Jordan Smith and Scarlett's girlfriend, Sarita Francis. Scarlett — last year's leading rusher — told his girlfriend and UF police that the money came from "an agent in New York."

If true, that would be a violation of NCAA rules, but police found that the funds came from credit cards based in Carlsbad, Calif.

The bookstore began looking further and found similar instances involving Callaway, offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, receiver Rick Wells, linebackers Ventrell Miller and James Houston and defensive linemen Keivonnis Davis and Richerd Desir-Jones.

A bookstore employee recognized the names as athletes and first contacted the athletic and compliance departments. The Gators suspended seven of the players on Aug. 13 and the other two on Aug. 30, just before the season opener against Michigan.

UF police contacted the bookstore on Aug. 15 and found fraudulent charges totaling $17,434.48. Almost all of them took place at the bookstore, where the players are accused of using the funds to buy electronics. Some later sold the devices, according to sworn complaints filed Friday and released Monday.

At least four of the players have had previous legal problems at the university. Callaway, Scarlett and Miller have been cited on complaints of marijuana possession, and Wells was involved in a BB gun incident during the summer of 2016.

Despite their histories, those players could still qualify for pre-trial intervention programs that could lead to reduced or dropped charges. Cervone said the only two players who will probably not qualify for a diversion program are Telfort and Smith, who are responsible for 48 of the complaints.

Telfort, a true freshman from Miami, faces 30 felony complaints on suspicion of using stolen cards to fund 11 food delivery purchases and add $1,450 to his bookstore account. Telfort's attorney, Peter Schoenthal, told police that he wanted to sit down with the State Attorney's Office to negotiate a deal.

"Schoenthal said he didn't want to ask for any special treatment, but had to ask for special treatment since his client was a UF football player and the case against him would ruin his life," the complaint said.

Smith, a redshirt freshman from Georgia, faces 18 felony complaints on accusations that he put $3,750 in his bookstore account through fraudulent cards. He will also face another fraud charge from the Gainesville Police Department for allegedly using a stolen card to pay the rent at his apartment, according to the complaint.

UF police told Smith's attorney, Michael Barbarette, that "people were saying Smith was the ringleader in the fraud case." Barbarette then asked police "if there was a way to charge Smith with just a misdemeanor," according to the complaint. The officer, Nikita McCarthy, said that a misdemeanor charge was unlikely because of the many transactions and stolen cards.

The complaints began to trickle out during coach Jim McElwain's weekly news conference in advance of No. 21 UF's home game against Vanderbilt on Saturday. McElwain declined to address the complaints until he knew all of the details and said he will "do everything I can to help these guys."

That will be hard to do if any of the players are formally charged with felonies.

"You're darn right," McElwain said.

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.


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