The United States Justice Department has released Chuck Blazer’s transcript when he appeared in Federal court at Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn, New York. Chuck Blazer’s plea on ten counts was processed in November, 2013.
The transcript tells us more about the American Justice System than about the alleged criminal career of Chuck Blazer as he rose through the ranks of CONCACAF and FIFA. The Judge as is customary took the ailing Chuck Blazer through the painstaking process of a guilty plea. Mr. Blazer and his Counsel had to acknowledge that they were waiving their rights from being indicted by a Grand Jury, was giving up their right to a trial by a jury of his peers and that he understood the severe nature of the ten charges that he has confessed to committing.
The process was like a long funeral procession, well rehearsed before Blazer arrived at Cadman Plaza. Unusually, the doors of the courtroom had to be locked as all trials are public spectacles but the government did not wish to make it known that the former General Secretary of CONCACAF and Vice President of FIFA had become in 2013 a witness for the prosecution. At all these proceedings the administering Judge has to make it clear that no deals regarding Mr. Blazer’s sentencing have been made. Any student of the American criminal justice system is very much cognizant that Mr. Blazer’s cooperation with the government will mean a lighter sentence.
On May 20, 2015, the freshly appointed Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, announced with great fanfare the 155 page indictment of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL official in conjunction with their racketeering schemes vis-à-vis soccer tournaments. The U.S. indictment has captured initially 14 indictees. Extradition procedures of those living outside of the United States are already underway.
What is ironical is that CONCACAF initiated its own inquiry of the Blazer/Warner improprieties in September 2012. The findings were released on April 19, 2013. CONCACAF established an Integrity Committee comprised of three distinguished jurists who were assisted by a law firm and a secretariat. The Integrity Committee examined the numerous improprieties suspected of Jack Warner, the former President of CONCACAF and Chuck Blazer, Warner’s trusted General Secretary. The CONCACAF investigation is limited to the skullduggery that went on in CONCACAF during the reign of Warner and Blazer which spanned from 1990 to 2011.
The Integrity committee reported to CONCACAF that Jack Warner had misappropriated funds received from FIFA for the development of football in the Caribbean. Mr. Blazer is also found to have used CONCACAF funds to maintain a lavish lifestyle. Blazer improperly used CONCACAF funds to purchase apartments in luxury buildings in the Bahamas and Miami. Blazer drove a Hummer that was paid for out of CONCACAF funds. Even though he worked without a contract since 1998, he was still deducting 10 percent of the funds that he brought into the FIFA confederation.
Blazer has a curious past. He was one of the pioneers who struggled with trying to institutionalize professional soccer in the United States. There were multiple failures from the NASL to Pele’s Cosmos. Blazer even started his own American Soccer League which was short lived.
What Blazer grew to recognize is that sports was becoming an essential part of the American entertainment-television landscape. Soccer’s penuriousness could be salvaged through long term deals with television stations competing for exclusive broadcasting rights.
It is that business acumen that Blazer brought to CONCACAF. He was able to enrich the coffers of CONCACAF by staging the regional Gold Cup tournaments in the summer. When the Gold Cup was not scheduled, it was the qualifiers for the World Cup played every four years but with qualifiers running every two years.
Television like theatre cannot survive when there is no one performing on stage. By building the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF qualifiers for the World Cup, CONCACAF was able to achieve financial viability. Blazer built up the coffers of CONCACAF concomitantly ripping off the system for his own personal enrichment.
The U.S. Justice Department far reaching claws goes beyond CONCACAF and “ropes in” CONMEBOL in which officials of that confederation were taking bribes and kickbacks from sports marketing agencies. Loretta Lynch’s Justice Department has also launched a wider probe in conjunction with Swiss law enforcement officials involving FIFA and the awarding of the World Cup in 2018 to Russia and to Qatar in 2022.
In the CONCACAF Inquiry, there is no mention of Warner receiving $10 million from FIFA for the development of football in the region designated The Diaspora Legacy Program. The assumption is that the funds were part of his pay-off for his vote in support of South Africa staging the World Cup in 2010. That money sent by FIFA in 2008 was in lieu of FIFA providing the Organizing Committee in South Africa for the World Cup. The football federation has vehemently denied that they paid any money to procure the World Cup. In the U.S. indictment evidence is furnished that Blazer received from Warner his customary 10 percent of the $10 million.
The presumption is that Sepp Blatter stepped down because he will subsequently face indictment. Certainly Warner and Blazer were close enough to Blatter that if he engaged in racketeering, he will be brought before the American bar of justice.
Chuck Blazer worked energetically to enrich himself from the coffers of CONCACAF yet it was his failure to pay taxes that led to the IRS arresting him. He was also lax in paying attention to his health. His awaiting of sentencing must play havoc on his mind. Blazer is a classical example of the greed that is endemic in certain segments of American society.
FIFA, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL now have the opportunity to set up structures to avoid internal and external criminality. Soccer does not need kleptomaniacs to make mega-bucks. The beautiful game has captured the imagination of the world. The confederations and FIFA must make whole the administrative component of the beautiful game.
*Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: email@example.com.