(Bloomberg) -- Darius Miles, who was the highest-ever National Basketball Association draft pick to come straight out of high school when he joined the Los Angeles Clippers in 2000, avoided a prison sentence for participating in a fraud scheme aimed at the league’s health care plan.
Miles, 42, was given three years’ probation on Monday by US District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan. He pleaded guilty in June and had faced a possible sentence of around two years in prison. The scheme’s ringleader, Terrence Williams, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft, was given a 10-year prison term in August.
Caproni called Miles a “poster child” for why drafting players out of high school “was a bad idea,” as he clearly had a “substantial need to learn how to handle money.” Though she said his crime was a serious one, the judge gave consideration to his charitable work in recent years.
Miles was arguably the most famous of the 18 former NBA players charged in October 2021 with defrauding the health plan out of more than $5 million. They were accused of submitting false claims for medical and dental procedures they never received from 2017 to 2021.
Many of those charged pleaded guilty, including Williams. Another high-profile player, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, was found guilty by a jury in New York last week.
Though Miles was regarded as an 18-year-old phenomenon at the time he was drafted, he never managed to become a star during his nine-year career in the NBA. In addition to the Clippers, Miles also played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies before an injury ended his career in 2009. LeBron James and others were later picked higher than Miles right out of high school before the league banned the practice in 2005.
Prosecutors had sought a punishment below federal guidelines, which called for Miles to serve 21 to 27 months in prison. Lawyers for Miles had asked Caproni to spare him from prison time, saying his personal history and characteristics show “remarkable rehabilitation and an uncommon capacity to do good.”
They said the cancer death of his mother, who raised him as a single working parent in East St. Louis, Illinois, sent him into a “deep depression” and a series of “misguided decisions” that led to him declaring personal bankruptcy. It was during this “period of vulnerability and financial anxiety” that he agreed to submit false invoices to the plan, Miles’s lawyers said.
Miles later managed to “pull himself back from the brink” with the help of a close friend and former teammate, starting a second career in sports media and using his platform to “shine a spotlight on the mental health and financial struggles of professional athletes.”
Miles now co-hosts a podcast, Knuckleheads, with high school friend and former Clippers teammate Quentin Richardson, which features unvarnished conversations with other NBA players.
At his sentencing, Miles apologized to the NBA and its past and present players. He thanked the league for its continuing support.
“I was also very lucky,” he said. “I am still lucky.”
The case is US v. Williams, 21-cr-00603, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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