By Teresa Ambord
Former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell was back in the spotlight in early March, but he probably wishes he wasn't. This appearance wasn't on the field and not on an ESPN special, but in an Orlando federal court to enter a guilty plea for his role in a tax fraud case.
The IRS started eyeballing Mitchell and two codefendants back in 2009, when an attorney reported that a fraudulent tax return had been filed in the name of his client (who was identified in the report only as "A.G").
A Little Background
Mitchell grew up in Polk County, Florida, went to school at UCLA, and then played four seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles. While living in Florida, he became acquainted with another pro athlete, listed only as "A.G." According to reporters, in 2009 Mitchell falsely told A.G. that Jamie Russ-Walls (who identified herself as a former IRS employee) prepared his income taxes and got him a refund of $1 million. He also told A.G. that Russ-Walls would do the same for him. A.G. agreed to consider talking to Russ-Walls and her husband, Richard Walls, but didn't follow through or authorize the filing of a return in his name.
A.G. later told authorities that he wasn't aware that a return had indeed been filed, although the Tampa Bay Times reported, "A.G. paid Mitchell $100,000 as a down payment for a tax preparation fee, which Mitchell, Russ-Walls, and Walls split, according to the plea agreement."
Mitchell's plea agreement also shows that on September 16, 2009, Russ-Walls did file a fraudulent tax form in A.G.'s name, showing a refund of nearly $2 million. With the return, Mitchell, Russ-Walls, and Walls submitted documents to secure a direct deposit that would distribute the fraudulent refund into various accounts, including $280,000 into Mitchell's account and $638,288 into Russ-Wall's account.
Civil Suit Reveals Identity of Mystery Man A.G.
In May of 2012, Freddie Mitchell brought a civil suit against Walls and Russ-Walls, alleging fraud, breach of contract, and infliction of emotional distress. He said their actions caused him embarrassment, lost business opportunities, and required him to seek medical and psychological attention. He said because of them, he was implicated in a federal case in which they took advantage of him and defrauded him.
As part of Mitchell's civil suit, he stated he brought Milwaukee Bucks power forward Drew Gooden to Russ-Walls for tax help. Gooden isn't charged with any wrongdoing in the case, according to a report in Philly.com. During the civil suit, Mitchell continued to assert that he was outraged when he learned that a fake return had been filed in his friend's name. Mitchell's attorney, Richard F. Klineburger, III, predicted Mitchell would be fully vindicated. He was wrong.
All three coconspirators were indicted in April 2011 by a grand jury.
Walls and Russ-Walls each pled guilty. Russ-Walls was given five years' probation and one year of home detention. Walls was sentenced in February 2013 to thirty-seven months in prison.
Mitchell entered a last-minute plea deal days before he was set to go to trial. On March 8, 2013, as part of his plea deal, Mitchell told US Magistrate Judge Thomas B. Smith that "he knew fraud was being committed and yet he did not stop the illegal activities or report it to law enforcement." He now faces up to ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. He awaits sentencing.
Tampa Bay Times also reported federal agents found that Mitchell created a company known as Chameleon, LLC, and the company made other false tax claims totaling $2.2 million.