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Former FIFA member Blazer’s plea seems key to investigation

NEW YORK (AP) — When Chuck Blazer answered the phone at his Trump Tower apartment, his pet macaw Max could often be heard squawking in the background.

The former FIFA executive committee member and U.S. soccer power broker has been out of sight for more than two years, but he is suddenly making a lot of noise that is shaking up the sports world.

When indictments were unsealed Wednesday charging nine soccer officials and five other men with racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud related to bribes and kickbacks stretching back more than two decades, the U.S. government revealed Blazer pleaded guilty 1 1/2 years ago. Prosecutors also announced two sons of former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner pleaded guilty.

Information from the three men appears to have been central to the Justice Department’s soccer corruption investigation, linking other soccer officials in the Americas to a series of schemes. Much of the money passed through U.S. banks, giving federal officials the power to go after offenders from around the world.

“All of these defendants abused the U.S. financial system and violated U.S. law,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said.

The longtime No. 2 official in soccer’s North and Central American and Caribbean region, Blazer is known for his large belly, bushy beard, theatrical lifestyle and adeptness at gaining a voice for the U.S. among the sport’s international power brokers. He also is known at Mr. 10 Percent, for his employment contracts that included 10 percent commissions on any deals he negotiated.

Federal prosecutors revealed the Santa Claus lookalike pleaded guilty on Nov. 25, 2013, to six counts of income tax evasion and one count each of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and willful failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts.

Prosecutors said Blazer received $750,000 from the $10 million Warner got as a bribe after the pair voted for South Africa to become the 2010 World Cup host. They also revealed he did not file a U.S. tax return for six straight years.

Blazer agreed to forfeit about $1.95 million to the government, which called it a portion of what Blazer had received in bribes, kickbacks and unauthorized World Cup ticket sales. Blazer also agreed to pay a second amount that will be determined at the time of his sentencing.

At the same time, they also announced Daryan Warner pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and structuring — making bank deposits below $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements — related to scalping tickets for the 2006 and 2010 Word Cups. Daryll Warner pleaded guilty to wire fraud and structuring in relation to obtaining a mortgage for a Miami condominium.

The Warners appeared to have then provided information to the investigators.

And now that more officials have been charged, prosecutors will no doubt attempt to pressure the newly indicted to admit guilt and provide evidence of additional malfeasance in soccer’s governing bodies. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, accused by some of fostering a culture of corruption, has not been charged.

An NYU business graduate, Blazer coached his son’s club in New Rochelle, joined local and regional soccer organizations and became executive vice president for the U.S. Soccer Federation from 1984-86,

Now 70, Blazer served as CONCACAF’s secretary general from 1990 until 2011 under Warner and was a FIFA exco member from 1997 until 2013. He left his jobs after going public with corruption allegations against Warner.

A CONCACAF integrity committee harshly criticized Blazer in April 2013. It claimed he received more than $20.6 million in compensation from CONCACAF from 1996 to 2011, caused the federation to subsidize rent on his New York residence, to purchase apartments in Miami and to sign purchase agreements and made down payments on apartments at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.” The report also said Blazer used CONCACAF funds to buy a $48,000 Hummer.

From 2004-11, Blazer and other senior CONCACAF executives charged more than $26 million in business expenses to Blazer’s personal American Express cards. One CONCACAF employee said Blazer encouraged the use of his cards because he wanted to collect American Express membership points.

He blogged about his travels and dining, listed Russian President Vladimir Putin and the late South African leader Nelson Mandela as friends.

Last November, the New York Daily News reported Blazer started cooperating with the U.S. government in 2011 and carried a keychain with an embedded microphone to record other soccer officials. He reportedly had colon cancer and has had other health problems. He’s refused to talk to reporters.

That was about a year after two executive committee members were suspended ahead of the vote on 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, the start of a string of FIFA scandals that have not ceased. Ahead of the vote, he criticized Qatar’s bid in remarks that have been repeated for five years.

“You can air condition a stadium,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “but I don’t see how you can air-condition an entire country.”

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