BLAZER IS KEY TO FIFA BRIBERY CASE

Former mem­ber of the soc­cer body’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee co­op­er­ated in probe af­ter plead­ing guilty.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Nathan Fenno and Richard Ser­rano

Chuck Blazer was once one of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures in world soc­cer, liv­ing a lav­ish life in two apart­ments in New York’s Trump Tower, hob­nob­bing with the likes of Nel­son Man­dela and Vladimir Putin.

But on a Novem­ber morn­ing two years ago, he was in a Brooklyn court­room, a de­feated man sit­ting in a wheel­chair and ad­mit­ting that he and other in­ter­na­tional soc­cer of­fi­cials had ac­cepted bribes for their sup­port in se­lect­ing the host coun­tries for the World Cup in 1998 and 2010.

The brief hear­ing, cap­tured in a 40-page tran­script un­sealed for the first time Wed­nes­day, helped un­ravel the cor­rup­tion scan­dal that now has en­gulfed FIFA, the in­ter­na­tional body of world soc­cer, and led to the in­dict­ment of 14 other of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men. The guilty pleas of four oth­ers, in­clud­ing Blazer, were made pub­lic as well.

Blazer pleaded guilty to 10 counts, in­clud­ing money laun­der­ing, rack­e­teer­ing and tax eva­sion. Though no deal is dis­cussed in the hear­ing tran­script — brief por­tions are redacted — the im­pli­ca­tion was clear that Blazer would as­sist in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Blazer’s co­op­er­a­tion in­cluded us­ing a record­ing de­vice to cap­ture con­ver­sa­tions to aid in the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral sources.

His sig­nif­i­cance to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was ev­i­dent at the 2013 hear­ing when U.S. District Judge Ray­mond J. Dearie or­dered the court­room doors locked, then asked a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer to

check the hall­way for po­ten­tial eaves­drop­pers.

“Will you do me a fa­vor and just open the door and see if there is any­body lust­ing about in the hall­way yearn­ing to get in here?” Dearie said. There wasn’t any­one there.

The judge told Blazer, then 68, that he faced a com­bined max­i­mum of 100 years in prison and $1.6 mil­lion or more in fines. It’s un­clear whether he was im­me­di­ately jailed or re­leased. Blazer was turned over to U.S. mar­shals with a $10-mil­lion un­se­cured bond rec­om­mended by pros­e­cu­tors and his fourmem­ber de­fense team.

Dearie con­ducted the hear­ing with a con­ver­sa­tional ease, at one point ask­ing Blazer, who was be­ing treated for rec­tal cancer, about his health. Blazer called the prog­no­sis “good” but noted he also had Type 2 di­a­betes and coronary artery dis­ease.

The judge then wished Blazer, known for his large frame, un­kempt mop of hair and thick white beard, well. Blazer thanked him.

Dearie then turned his at­ten­tion to the plea agree­ment, which re­mains sealed.

“Would you agree that this is an im­por­tant 19 pages in your life right now?” the judge said.

“Ex­tremely so,” Blazer replied.

A few min­utes later, the judge got to the point.

“Mr. Blazer, tell me what you did,” Dearie said.

Blazer ad­mit­ted to years of cor­rup­tion while an FIFA ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber. Many of the de­tails were dis­closed by fed­eral pros- ecu­tors last week.

Blazer said he helped to “fa­cil­i­tate the ac­cep­tance of a bribe” in con­nec­tion with the se­lec­tion of the host for the 1998 World Cup, which ended up in France.

Along with other mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, Blazer agreed to ac­cept bribes for the se­lec­tion of South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup. Blazer was a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee from 1997 to 2013.

He also ad­mit­ted ac­cept­ing ad­di­tional bribes and kick­backs in ex­change for broad­cast rights to five Gold Cup tour­na­ments. Blazer did not give de­tails, other than say­ing that some of the trans­fers were made through New York’s John F. Kennedy In­ter­na­tional Air­port in the form of a check.

He didn’t apol­o­gize or ex­press re­morse. In­stead, each sen­tence was to the point.

“I did this while vi­o­lat­ing the fed­eral tax law,” Blazer said.

He didn’t pay fed­eral in­come tax be­tween 2005 and 2010, a key part of the govern­ment’s case.

As the hear­ing wrapped up, Dearie asked Blazer if he had any ques­tions.

“Noth­ing,” Blazer said.

Fabrice Coffrini AFP/Getty Im­ages

FIFA PRES­I­DENT Sepp Blat­ter, who has agreed to step down, taps the shoul­der of former ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber Chuck Blazer at a 2011 meet­ing.

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