University of Connecticut basketball legend Tate George has been in prison for six months already, but now his sentencing has been postponed for the second time until mid-May.
George was convicted in late September on four felony counts of wire fraud in connection with running a Ponzi scheme that prosecutors say could have involved as much as $7 million and at least 10 victims. He was originally scheduled to be sentenced in mid-January, but the court date has been postponed twice because an interview between George and his probation officer for a pre-sentence report was delayed due to snowstorms, said David E. Schafer, George’s federal public defender.
The attorney said that George has been following the success of the UConn men’s basketball team, but he had not seen his client since UConn qualified for the Final Four on Sunday with a victory at Madison Square Garden.
“I saw him a couple of weeks ago,’’ Schafer said in an interview. “I’m sure they’re all watching the games at The Pod. Each pod has a TV in the main room. I know they get CBS.’’
George, 45, is being held without bail in his home state of New Jersey at the minimum-security Monmouth County jail, which has more than 1,300 inmates living in pod-style housing in various sections of the jail.
“He has adapted well,’’ Schafer said of George’s view of prison life. “He’s lost about 15 pounds because of the diet. Other than that, his feelings are good.’’
During a trial in September 2013 in federal court in Trenton, prosecutors repeatedly branded George as a liar, saying that the former NBA first-round draft pick used fraudulent financial documents to trick investors into giving him more than $2 million in a Ponzi scheme. The government charged that George used the money from investors to give nearly $250,000 to himself, his brother, his former wife, two girlfriends and others. He also spent more than $60,000 for renovations on a home in New Jersey, $19,000 to pay federal taxes, nearly $3,000 for his daughter’s Sweet Sixteen party, nearly $3,000 to promote a Tate George reality show that is still available on YouTube, and thousands more for insurance, travel and daily expenses, prosecutors said.
But George testified that all personal expenses were paid from money that he earned in his real estate investment business as developer’s fees. His attorney portrayed the once high-flying basketball star as an inexperienced real estate developer whose luck ran out as various construction proposals fell through and were never built.
Schafer made reference during the trial to George’s celebrity as a former star who made one of the most famous shots in college basketball history. In an improbable play, George caught a long inbounds pass from teammate Scott Burrell, spun around in one motion, and sank a buzzer-beater in 1990 against Clemson in the NCAA Sweet 16 game. George then became the 22nd player overall chosen by the New Jersey Nets, and he later played briefly with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Mr. George, when he made that shot, thought he was empowered,” Schafer told the jury. “But fortune turned on him.”
The investors who lost money include former UConn and current NBA player Charlie Villanueva, former NBA player Brevin Knight, a municipal judge, a Rhodes scholar and a law school student who had inherited money. George testified that he was trying to get fellow UConn basketball players to invest in a retail development in Bridgeport that was never built. The one former UConn player who did invest was Villanueva, who never recovered his $250,000 investment with George.
In a pending motion for acquittal that will be heard by a federal judge in May, Schafer wrote, “George did not have any knowing scheme to defraud Charlie Villanueva or present any false pretenses to him to obtain money because factors other than what George presented to him caused Villanueva to invest with the George group.’’ Instead, Schafer said that another NBA teammate on the Detroit Pistons, Chucky Atkins, had in fact convinced Villanueva to invest with George.
But Villanueva testified that he “never authorized any of my money to go elsewhere other than the project’’ in Bridgeport. The testimony showed that Villanueva’s money had been spent, and he never received anything back.
George testified that he still intends to pay back the investors, but prosecutors scoffed at the notion during the trial and said that the investors should have been paid back years ago.