The following is a script from “Thrown for a Loss” which aired on Oct. 23, 2016. Armen Keteyian is the correspondent. Draggan Mihailovich, producer.
Away from the NFL limelight, there’s mounting concern that young, rich and unsophisticated players in the league are falling through financial trap doors, often led by the very advisers paid to protect their new found wealth. Tonight, we’re going to focus on how one financial adviser ensnared dozens of NFL players in a risky investment that saw them lose tens of millions of dollars and how the players’ own union didn’t sound the alarm until it was too late. For the first decade of this century, Jeff Rubin was one of the most prominent financial advisers in the NFL, with clients that included some of the game’s biggest stars until he gambled on a deal that blew up spectacularly.
Fred Taylor: Jeff was a crook. And Jeff is a thief. He’s a liar. He’s a con. He’s deceiving. He’s all of those things.
Fred Taylor was an all-pro running back in the NFL when he was thrown for a loss by his longtime financial adviser, Jeff Rubin.
Jeff Rubin: I’m shocked that Fred would say that. Shocked.
“Jeff was a crook. And Jeff is a thief. He’s a liar. He’s a con. He’s deceiving. He’s all of those things.” Fred Taylor
Armen Keteyian: But that’s the level of bitterness that we have seen expressed by a number of NFL players. Who in the hell do you think they’re going to blame?
Jeff Rubin: I understand that. But I would hope they would be able to go ahead and understand what happened.
It all began in this office building in Boca Raton, Florida, in early 2008 when Rubin brought Taylor and a dozen other NFL players to a sales pitch.
Fred Taylor: Jeff said, ‘Look we’re gonna have a meeting up here. I, I think it’s something big. And you guys would probably enjoy it. You know, you’ll probably all be rich for the rest of our lives. I’m talkin’ crazy rich.’ So we said, ‘OK.’
Armen Keteyian: Rich for the rest of our lives…
Fred Taylor: Yes, yes, yes. Life after football money. It’s, it’s really good.
What was supposed to make the players crazy rich was Country Crossing, an entertainment and gambling complex to be built, oddly enough, near the cotton fields of rural southeastern Alabama. Underpinning the project financially was a modern version of one of the oldest games: Bingo.
Electronic Bingo resembles a slot machine, takes only seconds to play and by 2008 was sprouting throughout Alabama. Country Crossing planned to install nearly 2,000 electronic Bingo machines, a number that excited Jeff Rubin.
Armen Keteyian: Rough math it’s about $100 million-a-year.
Jeff Rubin: Your math is correct.
Armen Keteyian: So a huge payout in the end?
Jeff Rubin: Huge payout.
Fred Taylor decided to make an initial investment of half a million dollars in Country Crossing. So did tight end Vernon Davis, then on his first contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Davis bought into Rubin’s pitch.
Armen Keteyian: So he’s painting a very rosy picture?
Vernon Davis: It was beautiful. It was a painting I’d never seen before. It was fantastic.
Rubin had his clients go all in on Country Crossing and electronic Bingo.
Jeff Rubin: It was a ton of money.
Armen Keteyian: How much money?
Jeff Rubin: 51 million, I believe.
Armen Keteyian: How many players?
Jeff Rubin: Forty something.
The NFL players weren’t the only outside investors, but they had the most to lose.
Armen Keteyian: The NFL, if it has a cardinal sin, gambling is a cardinal sin.
Jeff Rubin: Yes.
Armen Keteyian: Why in the world would you allow your players to invest in something that has a gambling component to it?
Jeff Rubin: Armen, you’re completely correct. I mean, absolutely. If I can go back in time I wish I’d never set foot in Alabama.
Rubin had a four percent ownership stake in Country Crossing. 60 Minutes has also obtained documents showing that 10 percent of the money Rubin raised from players went into Pankas Holdings, his personal corporation. Jeff Rubin desperately needed the money because in April 2008 the IRS filed a federal tax lien against him in the amount of $440,000. On top of that, he was underwater on his $3 million house.
Armen Keteyian: And you’re responsible, Jeff, for managing other people’s money, advising them. And you’re in a financial mess.
Jeff Rubin: It was a rough time. I mean the only way I could explain it is, I went over my head on my house. And that was probably a huge mistake for me.
His biggest mistake was believing the legality of electronic Bingo was settled in Alabama, given the state’s turbulent political climate and its byzantine gambling laws.
Troy King: Here is the Alabama gambling law…
Armen Keteyian: You are kidding me.
Troy King:…pages, amendment after amendment after amendment.
Troy King was Alabama’s attorney general at the time. After studying Alabama’s countless amendments, King determined that electronic Bingo was legal in the county where Country Crossing was being built.
Bob Riley: Gambling, with a few very narrow exceptions, is already illegal in Alabama.
Then in December 2008, midway through his second and final term in office, Governor Bob Riley abruptly announced the formation of an anti-gambling task force.
Troy King: There was no way this could end short of somebody being destroyed, the governor or the gambling interest. It was Armageddon. There was no other outcome possible.
Despite Governor Riley’s threats against gambling from the state capital, Jeff Rubin continued to recommend his NFL players invest in Country Crossing.
Troy King: At that point, I believe anybody who was investing money without understanding what a risky proposition it was acting very, very recklessly.
60 Minutes has also learned that a document known as a subscription agreement which outlines risks to investors was not produced until January 2010, long after players had already poured tens of millions of dollars into Country Crossing. In bold letters, the subscription agreement stated that “electronic Bingo operations…may be characterized as illegal gambling under Alabama law”…in a sworn deposition two years ago, Rubin was asked if his players ever received that subscription agreement. His reply: “I have no idea.”
“I don’t know the answer to that question, ‘was it negligent?’ Looking at it now, it’s awful, OK? I put my trust in a lot of attorneys, just like the players put trust in me.” Jeff Rubin
Armen Keteyian: There’s no, ‘This is potential pitfalls of the project. Why don’t you raise your hand and say, ‘hold on a second?’
Jeff Rubin: That’s my fault, I had no idea.
Armen Keteyian: Is that negligent?
Jeff Rubin: I don’t know. I, I, I have…
Armen Keteyian: Well, either it is or it isn’t.
Jeff Rubin: I’m n, I’m not really sure. I don’t know that…I don’t know the answer to that question, ‘was it negligent?’ Looking at it now, it’s awful, OK? I put my trust in a lot of attorneys, just like the players put trust in me.
In mid-January 2010, country music stars were on hand for Country Crossing’s official opening. The crowds poured in, the electronic Bingo machines were humming and then, two weeks later, at 4:00 am, a seemingly endless caravan of 135 cars carrying state troopers appeared out of the night to descend on Country Crossing. They were coming for the electronic Bingo machines.
Fred Taylor: It was a sick feeling. It was a very sick feeling, very sick feeling.
Armen Keteyian: You call Rubin?
Vernon Davis: I called Rubin and of course, ‘Oh, it’ll be OK. It’ll be just fine. We’ll make, we’ll make it work.’
Armen Keteyian: Doesn’t turn out to be all right.
Vernon Davis: It’s a nightmare.
Country Crossing eventually went bust. Today, all that remains open is a pavilion where electronic Bingo has been replaced by old-fashioned paper bingo. The letters B-I-N-G-O cost NFL players $43 million. Stars like Ray Lewis and Terrell Owens got burned, as did players earning smaller paychecks.
Fred Taylor: A lot of guys had to, their homes were foreclosed on or short sold. Some repossessions. A couple of guys have had to take loans that they don’t necessarily know how they’re gonna pay them back.
Armen Keteyian: What would you say to them?
Jeff Rubin: I would apologize. I’d want to catch up…
Armen Keteyian: Would you begin with the words, I’m sorry?
Jeff Rubin: Yeah, absolutely. I’m sorry this happened. It’s been a disaster. You know, that was my life.
Armen Keteyian: You know some of them honestly would like to get their hands around your neck.
Today, Jeff Rubin lives in Denver, out of the fast lane. He’s been barred from serving as an investment adviser by FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and by the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, in the wake of the Country Crossing debacle.
Rand Getlin: In my summation, this is the single largest set of investment losses in the history of the NFL at the hands of one investment adviser.
Rand Getlin co-wrote groundbreaking articles about Country Crossing for Yahoo Sports. What surprised Getlin is how the NFL Players Association allowed Rubin to operate unchecked in 2000, the union had established a financial advisers program to help protect players and their money. Jeff Rubin was registered with that program.
Rand Getlin: He was the Pied Piper, and he led a lotta these guys to their financial destruction. And yet, Jeff Rubin stayed registered in that program for the better part of a decade.
Armen Keteyian: Jeff Rubin’s name was on that NFLPA list as registered with the union, giving you what?
Fred Taylor: I definitely would gain a sense of security with every registered adviser that’s in the pamphlet or on that list.
Armen Keteyian: So did the NFLPA, the Players Association, ever call you with any questions about what you were doing?
Jeff Rubin: They did nothing. Not one time did we get a call, an email, a fax, a telegram, a helium balloon. We got nothing from the NFLPA in regards to this project.
Only after regulators sanctioned him in 2013 did the Players’ Association send out an alert regarding Rubin and his misconduct.
We wanted to talk to the NFL Players Association and its current president, Cincinnati offensive tackle Eric Winston, about its financial advisers program. But after repeated requests the union declined to put anyone on camera, including Winston, who was once a client of Jeff Rubin’s and invested around a million dollars in Country Crossing.
If they were proud of the program, they’d be sitting in this chair.
Chase Carlson is a lawyer who represents 13 NFL players who claim they were ripped off by Rubin and two other financial advisers registered with the union’s program, which Carlson says is littered with cases of financial failures.
Chase Carlson: It’s a disaster.
Armen Keteyian: That simple?
Chase Carlson: They don’t know what they’re doing.
Another registered adviser with the Players Association, Ash Narayan, was charged with fraud by the SEC just this summer for secretly siphoning millions of dollars from investors, including quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Chase Carlson: He agreed to invest $100,000 and the financial adviser transferred about $7 million to the investment. The investment today is in receivership and Mark’ll be lucky if he gets anything back.
About half the league uses financial advisers registered with the program. The union says applicants to its program must pay an entry fee of $2,500 and agree to an extensive background investigation. But how vigilant can the union be in monitoring its financial advisers when Kevin Carreno is still listed on its online directory. Carreno was killed in a plane crash seven months ago.
Armen Keteyian: He’s still alive as far as the NFLPA is concerned?
Chase Carlson: You can still refer him clients.
The Players Association protects itself from any legal liability. On its website, it states that the union is not responsible for, and makes no representation concerning, the skill, honesty or competence of any registered player financial adviser.
Armen Keteyian: Then why have a program to begin with?
Chase Carlson: Right. If you can’t rely on these people for skill or competence or honesty, then what’s the point of using them?
The notion that their own union does limited due diligence on its registered financial advisers is news to many players like Vernon Davis.
Armen Keteyian: Is that troubling to you?
Vernon Davis: It’s very troubling. Here I am putting my trust in a registered financial adviser, and I’m thinking that I can at least go to sleep at night without worrying.
The exact number of NFL players who have been damaged by financial advisers over the years may never be known, largely because so many players are afraid to go public. Retired running back Fred Taylor was one of the few willing to speak to 60 Minutes.
Fred Taylor: There’s this big pride and ego thing that hinders those guys from sharing their awareness. We’re supposed to be macho, strong, you know? Why would we let little puny, you know, nerdy financial advisers or agents take advantage of us?
Armen Keteyian: So there’s a certain level of embarrassment…
Fred Taylor: There’s a huge level of embarrassment, in my opinion. Most definitely.
Taylor is back on his feet financially. But he and Vernon Davis were lucky in a way. Their talent enabled them to sign endorsement deals and lucrative second contracts that made up for their losses. Davis, who’s learned expensive lessons, says it’s time for players to start taking responsibility.
Armen Keteyian: How much blame do you put on your own shoulders?
Vernon Davis: I take most of the blame and I think as athletes and players in this union, in the NFL, I think we should take the blame because we can change it. We can change it. We just gotta wake up.