In a locked Brooklyn courtroom in 2013, a New York bon vivant named Charles “Chuck” Blazer pleaded guilty to accepting and arranging bribes and not paying taxes.
He was one of global soccer’s most powerful figures.
The deal marked an ignominious end to a two-decade-long career in the number two post at Concacaf, the soccer confederation that oversees North and Central America, which Blazer helped build into a political and financial force.
In testimony from the 2013 hearing, made public on Wednesday, Blazer admitted that he used his position to enrich himself, arranging and agreeing to accept bribes to influence voting for countries hoping to host the 1998 and 2010 World Cups. He also accepted bribes from a sports-marketing firm that paid Concacaf for marketing and media rights to regional tournaments.
Blazer, now 70 and battling cancer, pleaded guilty to 10 crimes at the hearing, with the most serious carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie set a bond of $10 million.
“I knew that the funds involved were the proceeds of an unlawful bribe, and I and others used wires, e-mails and telephone to effectuate payment of and conceal the nature of the bribe,” Blazer told the court, referring to money he transferred between the U.S. and the Caribbean.
On Wednesday, Blazer could not be located for comment, and one of his attorneys, Mary Mulligan, declined to comment.
Blazer’s guilty plea wasn’t made public until last week. In November, the New York Daily News reported that he cooperated with government investigators, wearing a hidden wire in meetings with FIFA officials.
The government’s case unfolded last week with the indictment of 14 soccer officials and sports-marketing executives charged with paying or accepting more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over more than two decades. Blazer’s 2013 guilty plea was made public on the same day; his former boss at Concacaf, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, was among those indicted.
More arrests are probable as the probe widens to include Sepp Blatter, the longtime FIFA president who announced his resignation on Tuesday, and the controversial votes for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, according to sources familiar with the probe.
Meanwhile, Blatter’s top lieutenant, secretary general Jerome Valcke, denied Wednesday that he had paid a $10 million bribe on behalf of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup bid. The indictment released last week described a “high-ranking FIFA official” as authorizing the money transfer, and a source familiar with the investigation identified that official as Valcke. Valcke has not been named in the indictments.
“I don’t understand what would be my role in a corruption case,” Valcke said in an interview with French radio station France Info.
Blazer, who made a fortune selling smiley-face pins in the 1970s, started as a Westchester County soccer dad and rose through the ranks of local, county, state and U.S. soccer before being picked in 1990 as secretary general by Warner, who had just been elected president.
Warner resigned in 2011 amid allegations that he had orchestrated a vote-buying scheme for the 2011 FIFA presidential election. Blazer resigned later that year, and an internal Concacaf report in 2013 documented how Blazer had lived lavishly on Concacaf’s dime, with apartments in New York’s Trump Tower and Miami. He even built a giant cage for his parrot Max that had its own air-conditioning unit and Central Park views.
Blazer documented his high-flying lifestyle on a blog called “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his friends,” featuring photos of Blazer with public figures including Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin.
The indictment released last week, and Blazer’s 2013 guilty plea, when read together, appear to portray Blazer and Warner as having participated in bribery schemes.
According to the indictment, in 2004 “co-conspirator #1,” whose description matched that of Blazer, traveled to Morocco with Warner, who was offered $1 million to vote for that country. Co-conspirator #1 is described as the general secretary of Concacaf from 1990 to 2011, matching Blazer's title and tenure.
But Warner ultimately obtained a better offer, $10 million to vote for South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, according to the indictment. Blazer, who also cast a vote, was promised a $1 million cut.
An Interpol alert for Warner was issued Wednesday. Warner, who is out on bail after being arrested in his native Trinidad last week, denies all charges against him.
Blazer also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and kickbacks from a sports-marketing firm for the broadcast and other rights to regional soccer tournaments. In addition, Blazer admitted in court that he didn’t pay income taxes between 2005 and 2010.
Judge Dearie, who is presiding over the FIFA cases, was exceedingly polite and patient with Blazer, walking him through the charges and the ramifications of his guilty plea, according to hearing transcripts from Blazer's 2013 plea. But there was one part of the case that he didn’t quite understand.
“I don’t know how you pronounce it, FIFA,” the judge asked.
“FIFA, Your Honor,” said Evan M. Norris, assistant U.S. Attorney.