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The NFL's Very Own Bernie Madoff

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Why professional athletes are such easy prey for financial fraudsters.

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Michael Vick continues to put together a highlight reel of terrible headlines for himself.

According to a report from the Associated Press, federal prosecutors have charged a woman who once advised the disgraced NFL quarterback and several other pro football players with stealing $3 million from eight victims in a Ponzi scheme.

Prosecutors say that the alleged swindler, Mary Wong, worked out of her home in Omaha. Apparently, Wong told clients that she was busy selling investments in high-end properties and private jets. In reality, according to an indictment unsealed Monday, Wong was using the cash to support herself and her business partners.

In an unusual twist, three NFL players are also allegedly mixed up with Wong. Demorrio Williams of the Kansas City Chiefs and twins Josh Bullocks of the Chicago Bears and Daniel Bullocks of the Detroit Lions were partners with Wong in a corporation that she ran, which Uncle Sam's prosecutors say benefited from the Ponzi scheme.

It's not clear, as of right now, who lost money or whether Vick's money was involved in the scheme, according to the AP. But we do know that Vick, who recently signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly worth $6.8 million, has sued Wong, hoping to get back $2 million from her.

In that lawsuit, still pending in federal court, Vick says Wong persuaded him to give her power of attorney, but didn't disclose a sanction she once got slapped with. Specifically, Wong received a sanction from the New York Stock Exchange for depositing a client's cash into her personal bank account.

Wong has denied any wrongdoing in that case.

Fans of Vick, who served nearly two years in federal lockdown for his role in a dog-fighting conspiracy, might hope that he wins back the truckload of greenbacks. Pit bulls around the country may be cheering for a different outcome.

If Vick did somehow get duped, it wouldn't be the first time a professional athlete got swindled.

Ne'er-do-wells target athletes when they're looking for what they think could prove an easy mark, says Wilson Hoyle, the managing director of Raleigh, NC-based Captrust Financial Advisors, which represents 80 players in the NFL.

Athletes are often young, rich and not always that well-versed in financial matters, Hoyle says. "They are an ideal target for a person who wants to scam someone."

In fact, at least 78 players in the NFL were defrauded out of more than $42 million from 1999 to 2002, according to the NFL Players' Association.

However, it's not usually a scam artist that takes down an athlete, Hoyle says. More typically, it's a friend or family member that steers the athlete into a dumb business decision. It's a can't-miss restaurant that goes belly up. For the athlete, such a financial mistake can prove costly.

"It is devastating to any investor to lose their savings through some scam or a bad business decision," Hoyle says. "But, for an athlete, it is even more difficult. A doctor might lose his savings at 40 but has years and years of earning potential to overcome that setback. For an athlete, his career is over in his 30's."
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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