SAN DIEGO (CN) – An ex-NFL player was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in federal prison for his role in selling opioids and laundering money in an international drug and gambling ring run by a University of Southern California football player.
Derek Loville, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos during his nine-year NFL career in the 1990s, was arrested in Jan. 2016 on drug trafficking charges for his role in a crime ring known as ODOG Enterprise, run by former USC football player Owen Hanson.
Loville was one of nearly two dozen defendants charged in an international racketeering conspiracy Hanson has pleaded guilty to heading.
Loville played for the 49ers when they won the Super Bowl in 1994, then earned two more Super Bowl wins with the Broncos in 1997 and 1998. But his football career left him with chronic pain and injuries that led to a dependency on painkillers like OxyCodone and Vicodin, according to his attorney.
At Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge William Hayes acknowledged that Loville’s opioid use stemmed from chronic pain and injuries sustained during his NFL career.
“This gentleman is not as involved as many others,” Hayes said in sentencing Loville to 15 months in federal custody for selling painkillers, which was three months fewer than Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Young had requested.
“His issue with these controlled substances appears to have stemmed from pain and injuries from prior employment,” the judge said.
Loville was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
The National Football League faces a class action lawsuit from thousands of players who claim the league illegally supplied players with painkillers, skirting federal laws governing prescription drugs.
Loville’s attorney, Francisco Sanchez, told Hayes the football player had started using the painkillers to deal with the effects of concussions and other injuries he sustained on the football field, which echoed the complaints of the more-than 1,800 professional athletes who have sued their former employer.
Loville’s sentencing was almost delayed Wednesday after Sanchez and Young could not agree on the football player’s role in the international drug ring.
Sanchez took issue with the pre-sentence report filed by Young which claimed Loville had customers across the United States. Sanchez argued Loville “was not a large player in this,” insisting he only sold painkillers to people he knew in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and used the painkillers himself “to cope with pain from his playing days.”
But Young disputed that account, saying communications from a months-long wiretap ordered on Loville’s phone during an investigation by the government showed he distributed pills to someone visiting Phoenix who he did not know.
Young said a search of Loville’s phone after his arrest also showed he had sold drugs to at least 10 individuals within only a few weeks, two of whom said they purchased the drugs to sell to other people. One person admitted Loville sold them 100 pills during one transaction, Young said.
“It’s unlikely that was the one occasion where he distributed drugs to someone he did not know,” Young told the judge.
In his plea agreement, Loville admitted to transferring money from selling OxyCodone and Ecstasy from 2011-2015 to settle a gambling debt he owed to Hanson.
After some back and forth, and a concession by Young the government was not alleging Loville had sold painkillers to clients across the country, the football player received his sentence.
The athlete’s voice wavered when he addressed the court, apologizing to his mother and girlfriend, who were present, for “[bringing] embarrassment to me and my family … I’ve lost a lot through all of this.”
Hayes said while he didn’t doubt Loville was “genuinely remorseful,” probation or home detention did “not reflect the seriousness of the offense.” He ordered him to self-surrender by noon on Aug. 25.
Hanson is scheduled to be sentenced in September.