By BEN FINLEY
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Former NBA player and University of Connecticut star Tate George was sentenced in a New Jersey federal court Thursday to nine years in prison for running a real estate Ponzi scheme.
A federal judge in Trenton also ordered George to pay $2.5 million in restitution and serve three years of supervised release.
George was convicted more than two years ago on four wire fraud counts. His victims included current NBA player Charlie Villanueva, former player Brevin Knight and “The Apprentice” winner Randal Pinkett. They lost several hundred thousand dollars altogether, prosecutors said.
On the final day of a sentencing process that spanned several days beginning in December, George argued for more than an hour and a half for leniency while maintaining his innocence.
He didn’t offer an apology to his victims, but instead claimed to be a well-intentioned businessman whose real estate projects unexpectedly fell through. He also repeated that his ventures were still alive and the money still out there but beyond his grasp in jail.
“For the umpteenth time, I’m sorry — I’m sorry the projects got delayed,” he said.
He also blamed prosecutors for withholding evidence that he said would allow him to prove his innocence.
“I don’t sleep at night,” he added. “I’m begging to go to the law library (in jail) to get the information out.”
The U.S. attorney’s office said George persuaded victims to invest in real estate opportunities by lying about his company’s assets and projects, then took their money and used it for personal expenses and to pay off earlier investors.
George, a 6-foot-5 guard, played for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. The Newark native is best remembered for a buzzer-beating shot for UConn in a 1990 NCAA tournament game against Clemson.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Intrater pleaded with U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper to lock George up for as long as possible to protect society. Federal guidelines called for a sentencing range of about seven years to nine years.
“There was a saying about Michael Jordan that you couldn’t stop him — you could only contain him,” Intrater said. “I submit your honor that is exactly Tate George. … You know that he will commit more crimes.”
Intrater said George had everything going for him: a full ride to UConn, a first-round NBA draft pick and the charisma to make business connections and draw investors.
The prosecutor claimed George’s crimes are the “monstrous result of our culture’s elevation and celebration of professional athletics.”