Soccer's $200 million-plus embarrassment

Sadly, Thursday's Department of Justice announcement of new indictments and guilty pleas -- 24 in all -- in the soccer scandal primarily affecting Concacaf and Conmebol was no surprise. In September, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking at an international forum of attorneys general, said more indictments were likely following the 18 guilty pleas and indictments announced in May. That total is now 27 indictments and 12 guilty pleas in 22 different schemes carried out over 24 years -- two generations, as the Feds noted -- to distribute well over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks.

IRS investigator Richard Weber termed the case "one of the most complex worldwide financial investigations ever conducted. It is also an eye opener to everyone that such greed and corruption could be hiding in plain sight within the world’s most popular sport."

The May indictments telegraphed the extent of the conspiracy. Bosses of all 10 federations in South America were in on the scheme to split $115 million in bribes for the Copa America ($35 million for next year's Copa Centenario). But Thursday's indictment of 16 more soccer officials disclosed widespread corruption in Central America.

How bad was it? At least one person from every soccer nation in Conmebol has been indicted or pleaded guilty. That includes current or former presidents of every federation except Argentina, and that's only because Julio Grondona, perhaps the biggest crook of them all, is deceased. Ditto for Uncaf (the Central American union) with one exception. No one from Belize was indicted.

How pervasive was the corruption? According to the new indictment, competing agencies both bribed Concacaf officials trying to acquire the commercial rights then held by Soccer United Marketing in the aftermath of the fall of the Jack Warner-Chuck Blazer regime.

Of the nine persons on the Concacaf executive committee in 2009, only U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and Jamaica's Horace Burrell have not been indicted -- and Burrell was suspended for three months by FIFA for his role what is named as the "2011 FIFA Presidential Election Scheme" in Thursday's indictment. Those Central Americans indicted include a former Honduran president and a current Guatemalan judge.

And Concacaf scored a dubious hat trick on Thursday as the indictment of Guatemalan Rafael Salguero meant that all three of its representatives on the FIFA executive committee in 2010 when it voted to award the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar have been indicted (Warner and Salguero) or pleaded guilty (Blazer).

Is this just a Concacaf or Conmebol problem? Hardly. This is a soccer problem. Warner, Blazer and Salguero are among 16 of the original 24 members of the 2010 executive committee who have either pleaded guilty or been indicted by U.S. authorities or been banned, suspended or reprimanded by FIFA or the IOC. And eight men who succeeded them have suffered the same fate.

U.S. Soccer, which is charged with organizing next year's Copa Centenario, quickly moved to distance itself from those arrested. "The new executive committee that was created to govern the tournament," it stated, "does not include these individuals and they were never in a position to make decisions that would adversely impact those high standards."

Fair enough, but Copa Centenario organizers weren't shy about Honduran Alfredo Hawit and Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout -- the presidents of Concacaf and Conmebol, respectively -- touting the integrity of the new bidding process to select commercial partners IMG and SUM for next summer's tournament. Less than a day, later,
both Hawit and Napout were arrested at the Baur au Lac and hauled off to jail.

Just two years earlier, we heard Concacaf president Jeffrey Webb also tout the merits of reform, and we know what happened to him. One of the seven FIFA officials arrested by Swiss police in May, Webb wasn't on hand to greet his successor, Hawit, or Napout, at their new digs. Webb waived extradition, was granted home arrest at his residence outside of Atlanta and 10 days ago pleaded guilty to seven charges of  racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Webb agreed to forfeit more than $6.7 million. By the Feds' count, the eight soccer officials and marketing executives who recently pleaded guilty have agreed to forfeit more than $40 million. But that's still a fraction of the $151,713,807.43 -- to the penny -- former Traffic boss Jose Hawilla agreed to repay.

It was Hawilla who mastered the art of the soccer con, and others followed. The scheme to hatch the Copa Centenario was the work of three competing agencies, Traffic among them. For years, Hawila worked with the kingpins of South American soccer, longtime Conmebol president Nicolas Leoz, Brazilians Ricardo Teixeira, Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo and Grondona. Tired of the "poderosos" sharing are the riches, the bosses of South America's smaller federations decided to get in the action themselves.

The same thing happened in Concacaf. Warner ran the confederation as his personal racket to steal millions, but it seems he taught Webb and Hawit well.

Two generations of crooks.
4 comments about "Soccer's $200 million-plus embarrassment".
  1. Ginger Peeler, December 4, 2015 at 9:56 a.m.

    How could Sunil Gulati not be involved in some way? With this corruption so rampant throughout the organization, He must have known what was going on around him. Perhaps he has been working with the Feds?

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, December 4, 2015 at 4:57 p.m.

    Ginger and Carlos, I've known Sunil Gulati for almost 25 years, going back to pre-WCUSA 94 years, and believe you me, I have also sadly been asking myself the very same question, in as much as I've asked myself another question related to the current CONCACAF interim person in charge. Though my acquaintance with SG was somewhat in passing, I must admit also that he came/comes across as someone who is "squeaky clean" and somewhat at times haughtily "above reproach." As for the current head CONCACAF chief honcho, I can say that I've known him since the old NAPSL Oakland Clippers (late '60's) and I was very surprised when I then heard that he headed east to NYC to work with some pro-sports group (football or basketball) and was even more surprised when I learned that he was "working" with disgraced Chuck Blazer.... I would tend to agree with Carlos' assessment and I dare say his time is or may be also measured... Then again, I am looking at the US Soccer glass a being half full, and thus being the perennial optimist, I hope for the best for the growth of our sport of futbol-soccer!

  3. Carlos Figueroa, December 4, 2015 at 11:20 a.m.

    I suspect he is. And not because of high moral standards or a crisis of conscience, but because the Feds have something on him. Once he no longer is of use to them, he will be allowed to "retire" and step away from all soccer related activity.

  4. Carlos Figueroa, December 5, 2015 at 1:36 a.m.

    RF, I share your hope and optimism.

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