Former Cleveland Browns Player Alleged to Have Use Charity Money for Gambling Payments
Former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Reggie Rucker has been charged in a U.S. District Court for using charity donations to pay gambling debts and other expenses. According to a filing by a U.S. Attorney, Reggie Rucker used money from his charity to pay gambling debts, make mortgage payments, and pay for meals.
The court has charged the 68-year old Rucker with one count of wire fraud and another count of lying to the FBI during questioning. Reggie Rucker serves as the chairman of the Amer-I-Can Cleveland in Shaker Heights and president of the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance.
Leads Two Cleveland-Area Charities
From 2011 until Feb. 11, 2015, the former 11-year NFL player solicited charitable donations to Amer-I-Can, a non-profit organization. Then he used their account to sign checks to himself. He also made withdrawals from the Amer-I-Can Cleveland account.
Rucker told donors that the Amer-I-Can foundation had an independent board of directors, which it did not. He also told contributors that he did not take a salary from the charity organization. The IRS claims he significantly underrepresented the taxes he owed to them.
The source of Reggie Rucker’s financial troubles appears to be gambling. From 2011 to 2015, he withdrew $48,000 from casino ATMs in three cities: Las Vegas, Tampa, and Cleveland. In 2014 alone, Rucker withdrew over $35,000.
During that time, he paid $65,000 to a single Las Vegas casino. According to the legal documents, the money used to repay those debts were paid to Amer-I-Can and the CPA as charitable donations. In all, Rucker is accused of spending $150,000 in charity cash for his gaming habits and other expenses.
Jim Brown on Reggie Rucker
Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown told Kevin Freeman of Cleveland’s FoOX 8 News he was disappointed to hear about the charges. Jim Brown said, “Reggie’s a very charming person, [a] very intelligent person….And I had no idea that lurking underneath was that gambling sickness.”
Reggie Rucker’s NFL Career
Reggie Rucker was a rags-to-riches story in the NFL. In 1969, he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, but made the team’s taxi squad, a percursor to the practice squad. In 1970, Rucker appeared like he would make the active roster on a team that went to the Super Bowl, but a broken wrist left him on the taxi squad again.
Eventually, Reggie Rucker played the last 2 games of the year, replacing the troubled Lance Rentzel. When Lance Rentzel was traded for Hall of Famer Lance Alworth in the offseason, the Cowboys waived Rucker. He was picked up by the New York Giants for a month, but eventually waived in November 1971.
New England Patriots Tenure
Rucker was picked up off waivers by the New England Patriots and became a starter in 1972. In 1973, he had his breakout year in the NFL. In an age when passing numbers were much lower than they are today, his 53 receptions and 743 yards were enough to make him 6th and 8th in the NFL in those two respective categories.
A few games into the 1974 season, Rucker broke his wrist again. A dispute with Coach Chuck Fairbanks led to his placement on Injured Reserve in November 1974, as well as a trade to the Cleveland Browns in 1975.
Cleveland Browns Tenure
Reggie Rucker became a star with the Cleveland Browns. In 1975, he collected 60 receptions, which made him the 2nd-leading pass catcher in the NFL. In 1976, he became only the fourth player in Browns history to catch 3 touchdown passes in a game.
By 1978, Reggie Rucker was a respected team leader. It is said he advised team owner Art Modell to hire Sam Rutigliano as head coach. Rutigliano had been the wide receivers coach with the Patriots early in Rucker’s tenure there.
The Cardiac Kids
Led by Coach Sam Rutigliano, quarterback Brian Sipe, and tight end Ozzie Newsome, the Cleveland Browns became known as the “Cardiac Kids” for their string of comeback wins in 1979 and 1980. In the 1980 playoffs, the Browns faced the eventual World Champion Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. Late in the 4th Quarter of a game the Browns were down 14-12, but within field goal range at the 13-yard line.
Rutigliano chose to run one more play, which resulted in an interception (“Red Right 88”). He told Brian Sipe to throw the ball into Lake Erie if there was not an open receiver, but Sipe forced the ball into Ozzie Newsome. All-Pro cornerback Mike Haynes intercepted the ball.
Reggie Rucker was a key contributor on the Cardiac Kids-era Browns. After the 1981 season, injuries to his knees left him a likely backup contributor, so Rucker retired. He was a beloved figure in Cleveland. He called Cleveland Indians ballgames for 3 years, then became a sports news broadcaster for many years.
These days, Reggie Rucker lives in Warrensville Heights. Arraignment for the former NFL star receiver is set for Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. in the court of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster.
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