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Ex-NFL lineman William Joseph sentenced to two years in prison in Miami FBI tax case

Former NFL lineman William Joseph, who starred at the University of Miami, will be heading to prison in late February after a federal judge sentenced him to two years and one day for his identity-theft and tax-fraud conviction.

Joseph, who played defensive tackle in the National Football League for much of the past decade, apologized Friday to U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams. Under the law, she was required to impose a mandatory two-year sentence for Joseph’s offense on aggravated identity theft. Then she added one day for the tax-related charge.

The judge also ordered Joseph, 33, of Miramar, to pay a fine of more than $10,000 and to perform 300 hours of community service after he is released from prison.

Joseph’s attorney, Roderick Vereen, said his client was “very remorseful, apologetic and embarrassed.”

“He didn’t want to bring shame to the University of Miami or to his NFL team,” Vereen said after the hearing. “He hopes to restore his good name and give back to the community.”

Joseph and other defendants — including a former Oakland Raider teammate, running back Michael Bennett — were 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 cut a deal in late August, pleading guilty to theft of government money and aggravated identity theft. Depending on his assistance, Joseph’s prison sentence might be reduced if prosecutor Michael Berger recommends it.

He admitted cashing a $10,088 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.

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 was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and concluded his career with the Raiders in 2011. Bennett, 34, of Tampa, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge. In October, he was sentenced to one year and three months in prison, 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. In November, he was sentenced to two years and four months.

Authorities say the tax-fraud case, while unusual because of the ex-NFL defendants, is yet another example of the escalating number of reported identity-theft crimes in Florida and nationwide.

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.

Bennett was charged with trying to obtain a $200,000 loan in April from the FBI’s fake check-cashing store, using a UBS financial statement falsely showing that he had $9 million in collateral, according to court records. It was Bennett’s former Raiders’ teammate, Joseph, who introduced him to the undercover store.

Joseph was tripped up by another defendant, Lanny Fried, 35, of Miami Lakes, who got caught trying to cash checks at the store and then began cooperating with agents to target the former NFL player.

Fried also pleaded guilty to theft of government money and aggravated ID theft. His sentencing is set for December.

Joseph’s attorney, Vereen, said his client now recognizes his criminal conduct with Fried and the others was wrong and “stupid.” But Vereen said Joseph is not like many other ex-NFL players who blow all their money.

“He’s not destitute,” Vereen said. “He just did something stupid.”