William Joseph, a University of Miami defensive tackle who played in the NFL for much of the past decade, will be looking at a few years in prison after pleading guilty to tax-related fraud charges in federal court Friday.
Joseph and other defendants — including former Oakland Raider teammate, running back Michael Bennett — have been convicted of either cashing dozens of fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks in other peoples’ names, or seeking a loan with fake collateral. Their take totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court records.
Joseph, 32, of Miramar, cut a plea deal in hopes of reducing his potential sentence. He pleaded guilty to theft of government money and aggravated identity theft, the latter of which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence. He admitted cashing a $10,088.27 Treasury Department refund check in the name of a person with the initials “I.P.” at a check-cashing store in North Miami in April, according to his plea agreement.
Unbeknownst to him, the store was a front for an FBI undercover operation.
Joseph, who wore a gray short-sleeved shirt and black jeans to Friday’s hearing, agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation into tax-related fraud, according to the plea deal signed by him, his lawyer and prosecutor Michael Berger. That assistance could be a factor at his sentencing Nov. 9 before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams.
“He recognizes the mistake he made, and he is going to take responsibility for his actions and do what he can to repair his good name,” Joseph’s attorney, Roderick Vereen, told The Miami Herald.
Joseph declined to comment after the hearing.
Earlier this year, FBI agents faked out the two ex-NFL football players and a former local high school star by setting up the check-cashing “front” in North Miami. The undercover operation, using audio and video recordings, sacked:
• Joseph, who was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003 and last played with the Oakland Raiders in 2010;
• Bennett, a University of Wisconsin halfback who also was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and finished his career with the Raiders in 2011. Bennett, 33, of Tampa, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge in August, and;
• Louis Gachelin, a Miami Jackson High and Syracuse University defensive lineman who signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 2004. Gachelin never made the final roster. In July, Gachelin, 31, of Miramar, pleaded guilty to theft of government money and aggravated ID theft.
Authorities say the tax-fraud case, while unique because of the ex-NFL defendants, is yet another example of the escalating number of reported identity-theft crimes in Florida and nationwide.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer has described identity theft as “America’s fastest-growing crime,” claiming thousands of legitimate consumers and taxpayers as victims, especially in the Miami and Tampa areas.
In May, Joseph, Gachelin and five other defendants were charged with cashing a total of about $500,000 in fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks, forging signatures on the checks and unlawfully using identification documents such as a driver’s license. As part of the sting, the undercover FBI agents charged 35 percent to 45 percent in fees to cash the checks.