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Eighteen former NBA players — including some with Chicago ties — charged in health-care fraud scheme

According to the indictment, the ex-players submitted false and fraudulent claims to get reimbursed for medical and dental expenses that were never actually incurred.

Shannon Brown is among 18 former NBA players charged in a fraud scheme. 
Shannon Brown is among 18 former NBA players charged in a fraud scheme. 
Wilfredo Lee/AP

Four former NBA players with deep Chicago roots were among the 18 charged Thursday for allegedly pocketing about $2.5 million by defrauding the league’s health and welfare benefit plan.

Three of them played on NBA title-winning teams.

Two of the players, Harvey native Melvin Ely and Chicagoan Will Bynum, were arrested early Thursday morning in the Chicago area and appeared before a federal judge here later in the afternoon. The judge ordered their release on unsecured $250,000 bonds.

According to an indictment returned in Manhattan federal court, the ex-players teamed up to defraud the supplemental coverage plan by seeking reimbursement for medical and dental procedures that never happened.

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said prosecutors have travel records, email and GPS data that prove the ex-players were sometimes far from the medical and dental offices at the times when they were supposedly getting treated.

The indictment said the scheme was carried out from at least 2017 to 2020, when the plan — funded primarily by NBA teams — received false claims totaling about $3.9 million. Of that, the defendants received about $2.5 million in fraudulent proceeds.

Strauss said each defendant made false claims for reimbursements that ranged from $65,000 to $420,000.

A request for comment to the league wasn’t immediately returned.

Among those charged are Ely and Bynum, as well as Maywood’s Shannon Brown and Chicagoan Tony Allen.

During the Thursday’s hearing for Ely and Bynum, both men mentioned job searches. Bynum asked whether the charges would “prohibit me from looking for a job?” The judge told him that, in fact, he was “encouraged to look for work.”

Ely said his “finances aren’t what they used to be,” and he asked whether he would have to travel to New York for the next hearing in the case. The judge said he would have to be present for his arraignment.

Brown and Ely were Sun-Times Players of the Year. Brown, the Sun-Times’ Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball in 2003, played at Michigan State and had stints with eight NBA teams after graduating from Proviso East.

Ely, who attended Thornton, was Sun-Times Player of the Year in 1997. He spent time with six different NBA teams between 2002 and 2014 after a successful college career at Fresno State.

Bynum and Allen both played at Crane. Bynum played collegiately at Arizona and Georgia Tech and had stints with three NBA teams. He’s one of the most prolific scorers in Chicago high school basketball history.

Allen wasn’t the high school superstar that the other three players were, but he carved out the best NBA career. He had stints with the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans over his 14 years in the league. He won a title with the Celtics in 2008 and was named to the All-Defensive Team six times. Allen’s wife was also indicted. Tony Allen was not in custody as of Thursday afternoon. The Memphis Grizzlies announced weeks ago that they plan to retire Allen’s number at a Jan. 28 game versus the Utah Jazz.

Darius Miles, an East St. Louis grad and high school sensation, was also among the 18 charged. The 2000 Mr. Basketball winner was drafted right out of high school by the Clippers. Miles had a nine-year NBA career, playing with four different teams.

Contributing: Associated Press