Former Jaguars financial manager pleads guilty to stealing $22M, faces up to 30 years in prison
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A 31-year-old former Jacksonville Jaguars financial manager accused of stealing more than $22 million from the NFL franchise through its virtual credit card program pleaded guilty to federal charges Thursday and faces up to 30 years in prison.
Amit Patel, wearing a dark suit and a burgundy tie, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of engaging in an illegal monetary transaction in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. As part of his plea agreement, he will forfeit property and assets funded with the money he admitted to stealing from the NFL franchise between 2019 and 2023. He also will be required to provide restitution to the team.
Patel will be sentenced at a later date. Because he pleaded guilty, he may receive a lighter penalty.
Patel and his attorney, Alex King of First Coast Criminal Defense in Jacksonville, declined comment afterward. Patel appeared to have no family members or friends at the hearing. More than a dozen people were in the gallery, including several media members and two sketch artists.
Patel's high school math teacher, Sue-Ann Hershey, who has since retired from Paxon School for Advance Studies, showed up for moral support. She approached Patel afterward and told him she was praying for him.
Patel was released on a $10,000 signature bond and surrendered his passport. He also was ordered not to have any contact with “employees of the victim” and won't be allowed to leave the middle district of Florida while he awaits his sentence.
King said last week that Patel had gambled away “approximately 99%” of the misappropriated money. Patel said in court he is undergoing weekly treatment for a gambling addiction.
Patel had been gambling on prominent websites at the Jaguars’ facility, which triggered an NFL investigation. The NFL met with Patel in February and then turned the case over to the FBI. The Jaguars subsequently suspended and eventually fired Patel, who began working for the team in 2018.
During his tenure, Patel rose to manager of financial planning and analysis. He oversaw the company’s monthly financial statements and department budgets and served as the club’s administrator of its virtual credit card program, which allowed authorized employees to “request VCC’s for business-related purchases or expenses.”
Being in control of the VCC program allowed Patel to make fraudulent transactions, according to a court filing against him. He allegedly duplicated and inflated transactions for items such as catering, airfare and hotel charges and filed fake transactions that seemed legitimate.
The Jaguars insist Patel was a rogue employee who took advantage of a lack of oversight after a co-worker with similar authority was moved to another department. No one else in the finance department has been fired, and the Jags have since instituted more checks and balances to prevent something similar from happening again.
Patel went to great lengths to hide his actions, even paying off some of the credit card debt from his personal account. He also kept gambling in hopes of winning back his money and repaying the misappropriated funds, his attorney said.
Patel was accused of using the money to buy two vehicles, a condominium in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, a designer watch and cryptocurrency, according to the filing. As part of the plea agreement, he has four months to sell the condo (valued at $265,000), a 2021 Tesla (valued at $40,000) and the Patek Phillippe Nautilus watch (valued at $82,000) to partially pay back the Jaguars. His forfeiture and restitution bills total $40 million, the government said.
He also allegedly used the money to buy sports memorabilia, a country club membership, spa treatments and tickets to sporting events and concerts. He also chartered private jets for himself and friends — including some Jaguars co-workers — and lodged a retainer with a criminal defense law firm, according to the filing.
The wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss arising from the offense, whichever is greater. The illegal monetary transaction charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
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