A disbarred attorney from Florida is facing the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence after recently pleading guilty to a racketeering charge. The charge relates to a scheme that defrauded retired NFL players out of more than $4 million.
Representing Retired Football Players
Phillip Howard, aged 62 and hailing from Tallahassee, had been representing retired football players who suffered from concussion-related brain injuries in a class-action lawsuit against the league. Alongside his law firm, Howard also controlled several investment companies. Collectively referred to as "the Enterprise" by the Justice Department, these entities played a significant role in the fraudulent scheme.
Howard fraudulently enticed his clients to invest their retirement funds with his investment companies, despite these clients being potentially eligible for settlement payouts from the NFL. However, he deliberately failed to disclose crucial information to the former NFL players, such as the structure of the Enterprise, the conflicts of interest, and the criminal background of individuals associated with or employed by the Enterprise. As a result, these retired players lost significant sums of money.
Sentencing and Potential Consequences
Janese Caruthers, one of Howard's defense attorneys, has declined to comment on the outcome of the case or their hopes for a sentence. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for November 6th. The racketeering charge, which encompasses allegations of wire fraud and money laundering involving multiple business entities, carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Additionally, there may be a supervised release period of up to three years following any prison term.
The Case of Howard's Financial Fraud
A shocking case of financial fraud has unfolded, involving attorney Howard and retired players who trusted him with their hard-earned retirement funds. From December 2015 to January 2018, Howard managed to convince these former players to invest in his investment companies, which ultimately led to devastating consequences.
One of the key aspects of Howard's wrongdoing was his violation of Florida law that strictly prohibits attorneys from handling assets belonging to their legal clients. Moreover, he deliberately withheld vital information about his organization. It has come to light that he was associated with an individual who had been previously convicted of fraud and making false statements in the investment industry.
Howard's deceit didn't end there. He also misrepresented how he would invest the players' money, misleading them into believing that substantial returns awaited them. But, in truth, most of the funds failed to generate any profits. Shockingly, these retirement funds were not kept separate but had been mingled with other money Howard used for various purposes. This included covering expenses associated with his law firm and even his personal mortgage payments.
To conceal his fraudulent actions, Howard resorted to issuing false quarterly and year-end statements. However, the Department of Justice has found evidence showcasing this deceptive behavior.
Significantly, this is not the first time Howard has faced charges related to his unethical conduct. In October 2020, he settled charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission for similar offenses. As a result, he agreed to a ban on working with any investment advisory or brokerage firms, though he did not admit or deny any wrongdoing.
The repercussions for Howard were severe. In March 2022, Florida disbarred him, demonstrating the gravity of his actions.
This alarming case shines a spotlight on the importance of diligent research and thorough vetting when it comes to selecting individuals to handle our hard-earned money and investments.