Joe Horn pleads guilty to defrauding fund for retired players’ health care

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Former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn has pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud a health plan, the first conviction in a case that has seen 12 retired NFL players accused of ripping off the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, a program designed to help them with their medical needs.

Horn submitted $149,775 in false or fraudulent claims to the health plan, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. None of the players live in Kentucky, but the players are being prosecuted in federal court there because they submitted their claims to a health care data center in Lexington.

Former players are accused of faking invoices claiming to have purchased expensive equipment such as hyperbaric chambers, cryotherapy machines, ultrasound machines and electromagnetic therapy devices designed for use on horses, then submitting those invoices to the fund and asking for reimbursement.

Former NFL players Robert McCune and Correll Buckhalter are accused of recruiting other former players into the scheme and offering to handle fraudulent claims on their behalf in exchange for $10,000 of the proceeds.

Horn will not be sentenced until April. It is believed that his guilty plea was part of a deal that will see him get a lighter sentence in exchange for providing information about other accused players.

In addition to Horn, McCune and Buckhalter, the players facing criminal charges are Clinton Portis, John Eubanks, Tamarick Vanover, Carlos Rogers, Ceandris Brown, James Butler, Fredrick Bennett and Etric Pruitt. Reche Caldwell has not been charged, but prosecutors say they plan to bring charges against him.

Horn’s life story was, until now, an uplifting one: He played his college football only at the community college level and had quit football altogether before managing to get a tryout with a Canadian Football League team in 1995 and bursting onto the scene with a 1,000-yard rookie season in the CFL that year. The next year he went to the NFL, where he played four years with the Chiefs and then signed with the Saints in 2000, where he was a four-time Pro Bowler.