As we continue to get our arms around the far-reaching implications of the landmark lawsuit filed against the NFL and multiple teams on Tuesday by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores, it’s possible that some wrists will end up encased in handcuffs.
While appearing on Dan Abrams’s SiriusXM POTUS 124 show earlier in the hour, we discussed the possibility of a prosecutor convening a grand jury on the specific question of whether Dolphins owner Stephen Ross or Browns owner Jimmy Haslam bribed coaches and/or others to deliberately lose football games. Flores has accused Ross of offering $100,000 per loss; former Browns coach Hue Jackson has suggested that Haslam did something similar.
The Sports Bribery Act criminalizes such conduct. Under 18 U.S.C. § 224, “Whoever carries into effect, attempts to carry into effect, or conspires with any other person to carry into effect any scheme in commence to influence, in any way, by bribery any sporting contest, with knowledge of the purpose of such scheme is to influence by bribery that contests, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”
Based on the language of the statute, it doesn’t matter whether the offer is accepted. Liability arises if the person “carries into effect” the scheme or “attempts to carry into effect” the bribe. The mere offer of $100,000 to Flores, without more, would constitute a violation by Ross.
As to the Browns, acceptance of the inducement and acting on it would potentially extend criminal responsibility beyond Haslam. Jackson, if he acted on those offers and received those payments, would be potentially in trouble as well.
Whether anything happens with this angle of the controversy remains to be seen. But federal prosecutors have broad discretion as to the cases they will bring or not bring. Flores and Jackson have said more than enough to get someone’s attention. And that could be more than enough get someone indicted, sooner or latter.