Victims of Florida Gator credit card scandal speak out

Jordan Scarlett
Jordan Scarlett
Published Sept. 28, 2017

Sam Nelson first noticed the fraudulent charges on his credit card about a week after they happened over the summer.

A charge to Chick-fil-A. One for Lyft, a ride-sharing service he doesn't use. And one that made no sense to the 44-year-old Hoschton, Ga., resident.

"The big thing that jumped out: $500 to the University of Florida," Nelson said.

Nelson didn't know it, but that was the first sign that he was unwillingly connected to a credit card fraud scandal that is clouding Florida's nationally ranked football program.

Nine players, including standout receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett, face more than 60 fraud-related felony complaints. The cost of the alleged transgressions exceeds $17,000, say sworn complaints from the University of Florida Police Department, with credit card information stolen from at least 15 people across the country.

The Tampa Bay Times reached out to a dozen of them Wednesday. A husband and wife in Tulsa, Okla. A paralegal in Carlsbad, Calif. And Brad Kolean, who works in law enforcement in Arizona.

"It's a big pain," Kolean said.

Police say defensive lineman Jordan Smith used Kolean's credit card information to make two payments to his UF transportation and parking account in August.

Kolean found out about the $1,450 in charges through a text message alert from his bank. He disputed them and didn't have to pay, but he still had to deal with the aftermath.

He spent time on the phone with his bank and businesses updating accounts. He had to wait for a new card. Some utility companies charged him late fees after failed autodraft attempts.

And one way or another, Kolean said, the costs go back to consumers like him.

"We all end up paying for it," he said. "It's not just me that's a victim. Everyone's a victim of it. … They have to be made an example of."

The State Attorney's Office is reviewing the case and will determine whether to file charges in the coming weeks. Many questions remain unanswered, such as how the credit card information was stolen.

"That's the most unsettling thing," said Nelson, who works in the telecommunications industry. "Is it something that I did that opened it up to them being able to get it? Because that's something I'd like to know. Do I have other accounts and stuff that are in jeopardy of being hacked?"

Nelson updated his information after the charges appeared on his card so a credit service can better monitor his accounts. He hopes that prevents more fraudulent charges like the one in June — $650 to the bookstore account of offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, sworn complaints say.

Nelson said he doesn't want to ruin the players' lives over something foolish they did as young men, but he wants them to learn from their mistakes.

"I don't know these individuals — what kind of backgrounds they come from, what kind of lives they have," Nelson said. "They're young college athletes. However, there's still a right and wrong. They should know better than that."

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Nelson doesn't follow the Gators, but he is a college football fan. He was at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium in January to watch his alma mater, Clemson, win the national title. His seats were in the same corner as Deshaun Watson's winning touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow.

Nelson said he doesn't really care if the accused players suit up for the Gators. But what if they played for his Tigers?

"If these were Clemson Tiger players, I'd say no," Nelson said. "(Clemson coach) Dabo Swinney wouldn't have them on the team, so it wouldn't matter."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.