WASHINGTON: Former NBA player Kermit Washington, best known for a 1977 on-court punch that nearly killed opponent Rudy Tomjanovich, has been indicted for fraud, a federal grand jury unsealed on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) revealed.
Washington faces up to 45 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted on four charges related to tax evasion and defrauding donors to his charity.
The indicted returned Monday at Kansas City charged Washington with obstruction of justice, corrupt interfering with internal revenue laws, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and identity theft, authorities announced.
Washington played in the NBA from 1973 to 1982 for the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Diego Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers and made a brief comeback attempt in 1987 with Golden State.
In 1977, a melee broke out during a game between the Lakers and Houston Rockets, escalating when Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Houston’s Kevin Kunnert got into a scuffle that led to Washington flattening Kunnert with a punch.
Houston’s Tomjanovich was running to the altercation, later saying he wanted to break up the fight, but instead was hit by a roundhouse right fist punch by Washington, fracturing Tomjanovich’s face and skull and leaving the Houston player in a pool of blood in the middle of the court.
Blood and spinal fluid were leaking into Tomjanovich’s skull. He had a broken jaw, broken nose and concussion. He would not play again that season while Washington was suspended for 60 days, missing a then-record 26 games.
Washington, 64, allegedly used the charity he founded, Project Contact Africa (PCA) to falsely induce donations, some from other retired athletes, by vowing 100 percent of donations would go to Africa.
Instead, the charges claim, Washington diverted the funds to purchase gifts, pay his rent, finance vacations, entertainment and jewelry.
“This former NBA player used his celebrity status to exploit the good intentions of those who donated to a charity he founded,” US Attorney Tammy Dickinson. “According to the indictment, Washington profited by diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations that was supposed to benefit a clinic in Africa for needy families and children, but instead bankrolled his own personal spending.”
Washington was arrested Tuesday in Los Angeles and released on bond but with a location monitoring device. The next court date in his case is June 16.
Washington referred professional athletes to Ron Mix, a former NFL player who filed workers’ compensation claims on behalf of former professional athletes. In exchange for referrals, Mix made payments to PCA and claimed those amounts as charitable deductions on personal tax returns, while Washington used the money for personal benefit and filed false income tax returns.
PayPal and eBay were also used by Washington for benefits in exchange for donations schemes, according to the indictment.