July 22, 2019
Down on his luck after retiring from the NFL following a 2001 Super Bowl win, and now in his mid-40s, Larry Webster listened carefully as a lawyer in Tallahassee, Florida, told him that he was guaranteed a 6-figure check from the newly inked NFL Concussion Settlement. The plight of Webster and numerous other retired NFLers is told in extraordinary detail in an exclusive investigative report by Law360’s Ryan Boysen.
The scheme that Webster and others allegedly fell prey to was a multi-tiered approach that caught players off guard and took advantage of their vulnerabilities. Looking for good news, they were anxious to believe that their fortunes were changing for the better, and seemingly had no reason to doubt their lawyer, Timothy Howard, of Howard and Associates—after all, an uncapped settlement for brain injury had been announced and attorneys from Class Counsel Chris Seeger on down were urging players to sign on with enticements like, “if you have a qualifying diagnosis, and submit a claim, you should be compensated within weeks.”
Boysen’s article relates how Webster, “[s]itting in the plush office, looking up at framed newspaper clippings detailing Howard’s involvement in Florida’s multibillion-dollar 1996 tobacco settlement,” was impressed. “Howard talked a mile a minute in a booming voice and sprinkled his conversation with references to arcane legal concepts and his Christian faith. He oozed confidence.” He assured Webster that he’d soon receive a large award from the settlement and offered him an advance. Why wait when he could start benefiting from it immediately? Webster took the loan and soon began receiving payments of several thousand dollars a month. Howard also convinced Webster to transfer his 401K to Howard’s offshoot, Cambridge Capital, promising him handsome returns on his investment.
Webster made plans to buy a home and move his fiance from Baltimore to Florida. He was excited that he could finally afford to get married. And then the payments stopped.
The Players who Played the Players
Three names figure prominently in the scheme, beginning with attorney Tim Howard. Former NFLers like Webster first retained Howard as their settlement counsel, and as he gained their trust, ushered them further and further into his lair. He offered them quick cash through high-interest settlement advances that would give them a monthly check until their claims were approved. In many instances, the players were also enticed to move their investments to Cambridge Capital, where Howard put their money to work funding their own payments as well as advances to non-investors, as alleged by settlement Class Counsel Chris Seeger and verified in Boysen’s investigation. Who are these men, and how did they pull off their scheme?
Tim Howard cut his teeth on the tobacco litigation of the 1990s, as Boysen phrased it.
After leaving the practice of law for a time to run a used car dealership, he set his sights on the NFL concussion case, realizing that Florida is home to numerous retired players and viewing the settlement as easy money. In order to entice clients, he used one of the oldest and most effective conduits for recruitment and that was in seeking the endorsement of other players. Howard knew the language, so to speak, and hired Addys Walker, who had played football at Florida A&M and had several friends who were retired NFL players to lure the players in. He also brought in a retired NFL player who declined to be named when he spoke at length to Law360.
As I noted in a prior article, retired NFL players will often take the word of other players over that of just about anyone. Feeling betrayed by the league and often distrustful of the legal system and outsiders, the brotherhood among the players is sometimes used to disadvantage them as here. Affinity fraud is one of the key methods retired athletes are targeted and enticed into schemes designed to swindle them and is a large part of the financial fraud problem faced by current and retired athletes alike and has cost them over $500 million over the past 15 years.
Howard saw the concussion settlement as an opportunity to build an empire for himself. He closed on a $7 million loan using the players’ investments and debt as collateral. He opened two elaborate offices and hired 20 additional employees. He began shopping for a private jet. He even invested in a tech start-up and a movie studio according to Virage, the source of Howard’s loan.
Howard’s scheme was multifaceted. Represent the players as legal counsel, earning their trust. Convince them to invest in his hedge fund disguised as an investment firm, and finally offer them high interest, high-risk loans using their own money as the funding capital. In order to pull this off, he brought in an old high school football buddy, Don Reinhard, a convicted felon who had served four years in prison for tax and bankruptcy fraud following the collapse of a hedge fund he created.
Reinhard was barred from the financial sector by the SEC following his conviction but that didn’t deter Howard from enlisting him in the creation of the Cambridge Capital hedge fund; Howard merely omitted Reinhard’s name from the fund’s registration documents. Boysen refers to Reinhard as the “financial genius” behind the scheme.
According to the Law360 story, Webster recalled that Howard led him down the hall and introduced him to Reinhard, who ran Cambridge Capital out of a room at Howard’s law office. Both Howard and Reinhard told him that they could double the returns on his 401(K) if he invested with them, assuring him that it had nothing to do with the concussion settlement or the funding advance he’d taken. He was assured that the advance would be repaid through his settlement award when he received it.
It’s hard to say how long the deception would have gone uncovered had Reinhard not been arrested again in another high-profile case—this time for child abuse in which he forced his child to eat feces as a punishment during potty-training. A WCTV news report indicated a succession of run-ins with the law, including an arrest for grand theft after stealing $700 worth of items at a Tallahassee Walmart. Reinhard was wearing a Cambridge Capital polo when he was arrested, as shown in his mug shot.
Addys Walker competed the Howard and Associates/Cambridge Capital triumvirate. Both he and his business partner Linda Bedell had previously worked as a paralegal and a private investigator.
According to an interview with Law360, Walker, when recruited, said he believed the hype and thought he was going to be helping players. His primary job was to procure clients for Howard and Associates. Part of his job was getting players to a neuropsychologist for testing
“Some of those players seemed fine, but Walker, Bedell and others who worked with them say that for many, their illness was on painful display from the moment they walked through the door.”
One player urinated on himself in the office, then drove hours in the wrong direction and ended up in Alabama by mistake, more than 200 miles from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. Another player broke down and cried as Williams explained that he couldn’t cure him, only test him. Many players called several times a day, asking the same question each time.
“That was the worst shit I’ve ever seen in my life,” Walker said in an interview with Ryan Boysen of Law360
Because of the NFL’s relentless war against dementia claims, I can’t help but wonder if the player who urinated on himself and then drove 200 miles in the wrong direction would even be approved for an award? Or if the NFL wouldn’t think he was impaired enough because he remembered how to turn an ignition switch and use an accelerator and brake?
To add another layer of missteps and misfortune for the players, the neuropsychologist that Howard had retained, Dr. Eduardo Williams, was arrested on August 2014 for allegedly groping a female patient at his medical office. Howard represented him against the charge, but unknown to the players he examined, Dr. Williams was on probation and under an emergency restriction to see only male patients. In April 2016, his license was revoked but according to Walker, he continued to see the retired NFL players and conduct examinations until the fall of 2017.
“In the beginning, Walker says he thought the “NFL operation” held a lot of promise. But it would end up devastating many of the players who were depending on him, Reinhard and Howard.”
“We thought we’d be helping these guys,” Walker says, shaking his head. “If I had known how badly they’d get hurt, I never would have participated.”
Players Awaken to the Deception
In all, Howard recruited over 200 players to retain his representation for their concussion settlement claims. Of those, 40 are known to have taken out high-interest settlement advances and 10, turned over their 401(K) investments to Cambridge Capital.
Larry Webster told Law360 that he began to worry that he’d fallen for a scam when he received an email from Reinhard—written from jail in February 2017. He tried to get answers from Howard and Reinhard, and no one was forthcoming. He started to freak out and wanted to know the status of his 401(K), which represented the entirety of his life’s savings. Then the monthly payments he’d been receiving from the loan stopped abruptly for him and the 40 other players who’d taken the loans.
Webster and others who’d invested their 401(K) funds began to suspect they’d been suckered and were receiving advances funded from their own savings. Some of the players reported their concerns to class counsel Seeger Weiss. Details began to appear on the public docket in September 2017 when Seeger filed a memorandum with the court based on the account of a player identified as “John Doe,” along with a demand that Howard/Cambridge Capital release the financial records relating to the players who’d signed on with them.
In January 2018, following Judge Brody’s December 8 ruling voiding claim assignments, Seeger informed the court of Cambridge’s attempt to strong-arm the players who’d taken advances.
Around this time, most of Howard’s employees quit having not been paid for weeks, but Addys Walker continued to stick around. The transcript of the recorded conversation makes it difficult to reconcile the concern Addys Walker expressed to Law360 as genuine.
These excerpts are just a few snippets that Seeger included in his memorandum. The transcript reads like an old gangster movie in which the loan shark is intimidating a borrower who got in over his head. You can view the entire transcript by clicking below.
Impaired players who’ve long felt betrayed by the NFL are especially vulnerable to scams of this nature. It’s hard to convince a man desperately in need of a life raft that the rescue boat he sees approaching is, in fact, the Titanic. Especially when it looks sound and water-tight from outward appearances and it seems like everyone you know is booking passage.
According to the Law360 story and various Seeger-Weiss filings, other players were similarly affected as they had put their entire family’s finances in the hands of Howard and his associates. One player lost his home. Another became suicidal.
Tim Howard and Cambridge have stonewalled in document production, but apparently, enough has been produced to confirm the players’ fears. A letter from Chris Seeger that indicated that the $3.6 million that Cambridge had hustled from the players had indeed been used for the settlement advances and was gone. Webster believes he lost over $300,000. The letter urged notifying local law enforcement and informed the players that an investigation by the SEC was underway. Two players, Corey Fuller and William Floyd have filed lawsuits but according to Law360 discovery has not yet commenced in their litigation. Most players impacted have remained anonymous, and while Webster was willing to talk about his ordeal to Law360, he hasn’t taken any further action, stating that he feels “demoralized” and “hopes the authorities will sort it out.”
When the settlement was announced it seemed like a windfall to numerous lenders and law firms, and in the early stages of settlement implementation stories of slick dealing, and claims service providers instructing players to cheat gave the NFL the ammunition it desired to declare the settlement was permeated with massive fraud, convincing the court to agree to relentless claim audits, the appointment of a special fraud investigator, and the implementation of new rules that will make what is already a difficult and cumbersome process for players even more difficult.
As brought out by former Class Counsel Gene Locks at the hearing on the NFL’s request for a fraud investigator, the difficulty of the claims process has naturally weeded out most of the con men looking for some quick, easy money, but sadly the damage has been done. The court has accommodated most of the NFL’s requests, even though they are largely unnecessary at this stage and only serve to give the NFL fresh ammunition to try to recap the settlement by discrediting legitimate claims, long after the bad apples dumped their clients or disappeared leaving them to fend for themselves. According to Law360, Howard failed to file claims for the more than 200 players he allegedly represents.
One episode of deception played out in real-time on Twitter earlier this month.
When Dom Cosentino of Deadspin published a story on the denial of the Ken Stabler estate’s claim, Stabler’s third wife, Rose, who was married to Stabler from 1984-2009 confronted him on Twitter claiming that his story wasn’t accurate.
It’s 100 percent accurate, and it’s all documented in the various case files linked throughout my story. Yours is a separate lawsuit that became a part of the same MDL. While I have you, where does your case stand since Judge Brody issued this order last October? pic.twitter.com/anHdHQe6Yb
— Dom Cosentino (@domcosentino) July 9, 2019
Rose Stabler had joined former Lions player Tracy Scroggins in filing a lawsuit against the NFL in the U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale April 16, 2016, seeking class-action status for players and family members who were not covered in the settlement because of the omission of CTE. She was represented by none other than Tim Howard and seemed unaware that the case had been consolidated to the MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania despite the transfer taking place on April 29, 2016, only two weeks after filing.
Due to Howard’s experience in MDL with the tobacco cases, he should have been aware that the lawsuit was barred under the terms of the already approved settlement. Potential class members were given only two choices: join the settlement or opt-out of it by October 14, 2014. Anyone who was a retired player or relative of one who did not opt-out by the deadline forfeited his or her chance to file a lawsuit against the NFL in the future. Rose Stabler did not opt-out, nor did she register therefore the suit was doomed before it was ever filed. Apparently, Howard did nothing to make her or the other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit aware of this.
As Cosentino’s tweet indicated, Judge Brody ordered Stabler to respond within seven days to a show-cause order on October 22, 2018, or face dismissal. Unsurprisingly, Howard never responded. The Twitter exchange continued.
Emailed him twice. No reply. Again, everything I wrote about the outcome of Ken’s settlement claim can be verified by the court papers that are linked throughout my story. If there’s something I missed, you and your attorney know how to reach me.
— Dom Cosentino (@domcosentino) July 12, 2019
— Dom Cosentino (@domcosentino) July 12, 2019
Getting a bad feeling. Office and cell number VM for Dr Tim Howard is FULL. Then I read an attorney w Howard & Associates was DISBARRED (didn’t give name of attorney).
I can’t believe I have yet again been effed over by a lawyer.
— Rose Stabler (@rose_stabler) July 12, 2019
Sorry you had to find out this way.
— Dom Cosentino (@domcosentino) July 13, 2019
While the vast majority of attorneys uphold the ethics of their profession, and vigorously advocate for their clients, those who resort to deception and fraud, make it all the more difficult for the ethical attorneys to gain trust. I’m aware of some players, once burned, that refuse to try again with another attorney, all the while lacking the cognition to properly file a claim, much less fend off the NFL’s scorched-earth attacks. In the end, everyone is harmed—except the NFL.
Hopefully, as Larry Webster indicated, the authorities will give the Howard clients some vindication, but it’s unlikely they can deliver justice. Unless Howard has enough assets to cover restitution, the men who entrusted their investments to him have lost their life’s savings. All who depended on him to shepherd them through the claims process must start over—4-5 years from when they thought they’d initiated their claims, and in the settlement each year is costly, as the younger a player is at the time of diagnosis, the more money he will qualify for. Perhaps the settlement court would grant exceptions, but as of now, I’ve seen no deviations from the hard-lines that were drawn.
Next time the NFL cries, “Fraud!” remember this tale and who the true victims really are.
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Sheilla Dingus founded Advocacy for Fairness in Sports in October 2016, after a stint with Defenders of the Wall, a New England Patriots based blog where she dived deep into the legal aspects of Deflategate. Along the way, she observed many inequities in sports and felt a need to address some of the under-reported stories in sports law. She draws from her background as a former professional dancer, who like many of the athletes she writes about, took an early retirement due to orthopedic injuries. After a return trip to college she worked for a legal software company, with seven years as a Project Manager and Analyst. She brings her analytical skills to the table in breaking down complex lawsuits, and enjoys pursuing her longtime interest in journalism.