• Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

Former Jaguars financial manager who pled guilty to stealing $22M from team gets 78 months in prison

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A former Jacksonville Jaguars financial manager who pled guilty to stealing more than $22 million from the NFL franchise through its virtual credit card program was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison Tuesday.

Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. sentenced Amit Patel, 31, in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. Patel, wearing a charcoal suit and a burgundy tie, showed no emotion inside the packed courthouse as the punishment was handed down.

Prosecutors said Patel has returned $1.89 million, leaving his restitution tab at $21,132,454.40 — a figure the judge acknowledged he will never be able to pay back following a felony conviction. Patel pled guilty in December to one count of wire fraud and one count of making an illegal monetary transaction.

The judge sentenced Patel to 78 months on each count, to run concurrently. It was the lowest number under sentencing guidelines. He also got three years of supervised release.

Patel’s lawyer argued for a lighter sentence Tuesday, asking for no more than 60 months. Prosecutors countered and detailed how Patel used “insider information” to go unnoticed for 40 months (between 2019 and 2023) while making hundreds of fraudulent transactions.

“If he can steal $22 million and get probation, he’s going to do it again,” assistant U.S. attorney Michael J. Coolican argued. “He’s a smart guy and will find a way. … If it’s reported on SportsCenter tonight you can steal $22 million and get a low-ball sentence, a slap on the wrist, you better watch out.”

Patel had roughly two dozen friends and family members in the courthouse. Four of them spoke on his behalf: his older brother, an uncle, a former high school teacher and his girlfriend.

Patel wiped away tears as his brother detailed his younger sibling’s alcohol abuse and gambling addiction, as his uncle told the court what a prison sentence would do to Patel’s widowed mother, as his former teacher called him a model student and as his girlfriend talked about standing by him through weekly alcohol and gambling addiction meetings and having to take a job as an Uber driver.

Patel closed the hearing and said he started gambled 14 years ago.

“I stand before you embarrassed, ashamed and disappointed for my actions,” he said. “It began small and then snowballed so big that my only thought was to gamble my way out of it. In the end, I always thought that big win was right around the corner and would fix all my problems.”

Patel said he is nearing one year of sobriety.

“Part of my recovery process is making amends,” Patel said. “However, that seems impossible given how many people I’ve let down.”

Megha Parekh, the Jaguars’ chief legal officer, read a victim-impact statement to the court.

“Speaking on behalf of the Jaguars, do know that we want to move on and forgive, not just Amit, but ourselves for trusting him only to watch him shame us, individually and collectively,” Parekh said. “We are proud of our employees for how they weathered through the mess he made. But make no mistake, Amit broke our hearts.”

Patel’s lawyers said he gambled away “approximately 99%” of the misappropriated money and said his gambling losses totaled $32 million.

Patel gambled 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.

Patel 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.”

Patel used his control to make fraudulent transactions, according to the court filing. He 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 used the money to buy two vehicles, a condominium in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, a designer watch and cryptocurrency, according to court documents.

He spent more than $278,000 on hotels, rental properties and travel. He spent more than $200,000 on golf memorabilia, including $47,113.92 to purchase a putter used by Tiger Woods during the 1996 U.S. Amateur. He spent more than $77,000 at the Ponte Vedra Beach Inn & Club. He spent $140,412.97 on eBay and $69,025.26 with Ticketmaster.

He also used $275,000 of the stolen funds to hire his attorney, according to court documents.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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