Adalius Thomas may have once graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, but the former NFL player told a federal judge Wednesday he can’t even lease a car now.

It’s not for a lack of money. Thomas instead blamed Gary J. Stern, a suburban attorney sentenced to 18 months in prison for preparing false tax returns in connection with a fraud scheme that cost nearly 20 professional athletes, including Thomas, millions.

Before Stern was sentenced Wednesday, Thomas appeared in a blue suit and gold tie in the Chicago courtroom of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber. Representing other athletes like Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis and Plaxico Burress, Thomas said he suffered a 100-point credit drop and a nearly $1 million tax bill thanks to Stern.

“No one would touch me with all of this on my record,” Thomas said, adding later that, “I can’t go and say ‘I’m a good person, can you please excuse this?’”

Adalius Thomas

Former NFL linebacker Adalius Thomas, who played for the Ravens and the Patriots, leaves court after testifying Wednesday afternoon against tax lawyer Gary Stern who scammed him and other NFL players. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Stern’s sentencing hearing lasted more than two hours. By the time Stern had a chance to speak to the judge, Thomas had left. Futilely, Stern scanned the courtroom for the former Baltimore Raven and New England Patriot.

“If he was here, I would convey to Mr. Thomas my personal apologies for the pain I have caused him and his family,” Stern said.

Stern’s attorney, Jeffrey Steinback, later expressed “gratitude” and “relief” for the sentence the judge handed down.

A grand jury indicted Stern in October 2014 for the fraudulent $4.89 million tax shelter scheme that led to the filing of 55 false tax returns by 34 people for tax years 2006, 2007 and 2008. It involved tax credits purportedly generated in the late 1990s by a company that contracted with landfill owners to extract methane gas and convert it into electricity to be sold to utility companies.

A junior colleague repeatedly warned Stern that the scheme wouldn’t pass IRS muster, the feds say. But it was apparently regarded as an “audit lottery,” meaning there was a good chance the IRS would never catch on.

In the end, prosecutors said close to 20 professional athletes and their financial adviser spent a combined $3.7 million to purchase the fraudulent tax credits. Several of them, including Owens, Lewis and Burress, as well as Laveranues Coles, Santana Moss, Santonio Holmes and Clinton Portis, asked the judge last month to finally sentence Stern after several delays. They said a lawsuit filed in Cook County against Stern has been on hold since 2015 while the criminal case was pending.

Steinback, recently wrote in court papers that Stern will never practice law again, and the case has ruined his life.He said his client hasn’t even been able to hold down a job as an Uber driver.

When Stern, 58, had his chance to address the judge, he appeared to fight tears.

“I only feel stupid and foolish,” Stern told the judge.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern, right, leaves federal court in Chicago Wednesday after a judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison after scamming 34 people in a tax scheme, including about 20 NFL players. | Jon Seidel/Chicago Sun-Times