Reggie Rucker sentenced to prison for stealing donations and using the money to pay gambling debts, personal expenses
Former Cleveland Browns star Reggie Rucker was sentenced to nearly two years in prison today for stealing more than $110,000 in charitable donations to anti-violence groups he led and using the money to pay his gambling debts and personal expenses, law enforcement officials said.
Rucker, 68, of Warrensville Heights, pleaded guilty to earlier this year to one count of one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to law enforcement.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ordered Rucker to pay $110,841 in restitution and sentenced Rucker to 21 months in prison.
“Mr. Rucker treated a non-profit bank account like his personal slush fund and stole more than $110,000 in charitable donations intended to keep the streets of Cleveland safe,” said U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon. “The victims in this case are the employees who did not get paid while Rucker spent their paychecks, the business leaders seduced with poignant guilt trips about civic responsibility and the at-risk youths forced to watch their potential role model revealed as a fraud.”
“Mr. Rucker used his position of trust to help fund his gambling habits and personal expenses, and ultimately, he betrayed those that supported his work in the community,” said Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland Office. “The FBI will continue to work with our partners to identify and hold accountable those who chose to commit such fraud.”
Rucker played wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns from 1975 through 1981, then worked as a broadcaster, stockbroker and financial analyst. Rucker served as executive director of Amer-I-Can Cleveland (Amer-I-Can), a nonprofit organization located in Shaker Heights. He also served as president of the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance (CPA), a collaboration of community organizations that employed outreach workers to resolve conflicts in Cleveland. Rucker solicited charitable contributions and deposited them into Amer-I-Can’s bank account, according to court documents.
From 2011 through February 11, 2015, Rucker diverted funds intended to support Amer-I-Can and CPA for his personal use and in excess of any compensation he was entitled to receive. Rucker wrote checks to himself and made withdrawals from the Amer-I-Can bank account in amounts and frequencies unrelated to the work he performed, but rather dictated by his own personal financial needs, including to pay his mortgage, entertainment, meals, travel, groceries, and dry cleaning, according to court documents.
In furtherance of his scheme, Rucker falsely told current and prospective donors that Amer-I-Can had an independent board of directors to provide oversight when it did not. Rucker also filed documents under the penalties of perjury with the Internal Revenue Service that significantly understated the amount of money he took from the Amer-I-Can bank account. He also falsely claimed to certain actual and prospective donors, “I do not have a salary with Amer-I-Can,” and “We don’t have any contracts that pay me…”, according to court documents.
Rucker withdrew approximately $48,000 at casino ATMs in Tampa, Las Vegas, and Cleveland, from the Amer-I-Can bank account from 2011 to 2015, including over $35,000 in 2014 alone. He also paid multiple gambling debts he incurred at a Las Vegas casino totaling $65,000 using money donated to Amer-I-Can and CPA for charitable purposes, according to court documents.
In January 2013, when an employee of a Cleveland-area foundation (identified in the charges as Foundation 1) informed Rucker that “The Board (of Foundation 1) has awarded $150,000…for Peacemakers Alliance. Congrats!!!”, Rucker forwarded the email to a Las Vegas casino that he owed $20,000, stating “this is my non profit and they were a little behind getting me my money. I will not actually have this in my hands for 10 days, maybe 14 . . . I like to keep communication open so that I don’t get into any trouble. Can they work with me on this?” On March 5, 2013, Amer-I-Can received $58,751.52 of Foundation 1’s charitable funds, and on March 12, 2013, Rucker wrote a check for $20,000, funded in part by Foundation 1’s donation to Amer-I-Can, to the Las Vegas Casino to pay his gambling debt, according to court documents.
In January 2014, after receiving $47,500 from a donor identified in the information as Foundation 2, Rucker wrote himself two checks totaling $40,000 from the Amer-I-Can bank account, and used a portion of this money to pay an outstanding gambling debt of $25,000 to a Las Vegas casino, according to court documents.
In September 2014, Rucker incurred a $20,000 debt at a Las Vegas casino. Between November 18 and December 1, 2014, Rucker wrote himself checks totaling approximately $21,200 from the Amer-I-Can bank account and paid the Las Vegas casino $15,000 of his debt. In January 2015, after Amer-I-Can received $47,500 from Foundation 2, Rucker wrote himself a check for $10,000 and paid the remaining $5,000 he owed the Las Vegas casino, according to court documents.
Rucker repeatedly solicited grants and donations from foundations, corporations and executives, but failed to disclose his diversion of charitable funds. For example, on November 19, 2014, Amer-I-Can received $10,000 from an entity identified as Foundation 4. The next day, Rucker wrote himself a check for $10,000, but later submitted a report to Foundation 4 that stated: “We appreciated the bridge support granted to us by [Foundation 4], it was helpful in being able to assist high risk and gang affiliated youth. The continued support of [Foundation 4] will be instrumental…,” according to court documents.
Rucker also repeatedly cited CPA outreach workers’ lack of pay to justify his requests for additional funds, but did not disclose his personal use of charitable funds. For example, Rucker solicited funds from Foundation 1, which provided approximately $2.45 million to CPA between 2011 and 2015, by claiming that CPA workers “believe they are being disrespected and taken advantage of . . . I can’t hold them together much longer. We have come too far, put too much into this . . . None of us has money!”, according to court documents.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Hollingsworth following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.