10 things you need to know about FIFA scandal's Chuck Blazer
The extraordinary indictment of 14 current and former FIFA bigwigs and marketing executives Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice after a lengthy investigation almost certainly wouldn't have happened without the cooperation of 70-year-old New York native Charles "Chuck" Blazer. The former FIFA executive committee member is believed to be serving as the government's chief informant in a scandal that is still sending shock waves through the soccer world and beyond.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Chuck Blazer.
1. He's guilty: When the charges were laid out Wednesday morning, it came to light that Blazer had pleaded guilty to a number of charges in November 2013. The counts included income tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud. He's still facing up to 15 years in prison and has agreed to financial penalties in addition to the $1.9 million fine he's already paid, according to federal officials.
2. He may be sick: Blazer's failing health may have helped persuade him to flip. Last year, an investigative report by the New York Daily News that chronicled Blazer's transformation from soccer suit to FBI informant, said Blazer was "gravely ill with colon cancer." However, when The New York Times tracked him down at a Manhattan hospital on Wednesday, he told the reporter that the cancer was gone.
3. He may have helped South Africa land the 2010 World Cup: According to the indictment, Blazer and two colleagues agreed to accept $1 million each -- part of $10 million the South African government was willing to spend to ensure that it became the continent's first World Cup host -- to sell their vote. Indeed, Blazer did support the eventual bid winner, although he received only 75 percent of the payment, according to the government's case.
4. He was a close ally of Jack Warner ... Blazer rose to power by helping Trinidad and Tobago native Warner get elected as president of CONCACAF in 1990. In turn, Warner, who was among those indicted by U.S. prosecutors Wednesday, named him the organization's general secretary, or second in command. In 1997, Blazer became the first American to sit on FIFA's powerful executive committee (the group that votes on, among other things, which countries will host the World Cup), a role he held until being replaced by current U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati in 2013.
5. ... but the demise of their friendship played a role in the current scandal: Blazer's relationship with Warner ended in 2011, when he told a FIFA ethics committee that Warner had attempted to bribe voters to cast their ballots for Asian Football Confederation chief and Qatari national Mohamed bin Hammam rather than incumbent Sepp Blatter in that year's FIFA presidential election. Bin Hammam and Warner were later barred from the sport for life. In 2013, CONCACAF accused Blazer and Warner of embezzling millions of dollars, piquing the interest of U.S. authorities and helping set in motion events that unfolded Wednesday.
6. He wore a wire: But Blazer was already under investigation by the FBI for tax evasion by then. According to the Daily News report, he was approached by agents in 2011 and given an ultimatum: Cooperate or be arrested on the spot. The following year, during the 2012 Olympics, he used a James Bond-style key chain to secretly record conversations with fellow FIFA execs inside London's Mayfair hotel, the newspaper reported.
7. He was actually an effective executive: The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football said Blazer misappropriated at least $15 million over his 21-year tenure, but that was just a drop in the bucket compared to the money he helped CONCACAF bring in. Blazer, who was once the executive vice president of U.S. Soccer, helped grow the organization's income from next to nothing to more than $40 million a year by the time he left, mostly by expanding and selling television and sponsorship rights to the Gold Cup, the biennial regional championship for national teams, and the annual Champions League tournament for club teams.
8. Mr. 10 Percent: Blazer had every incentive to create new business for CONCACAF. His original contract stipulated that he would receive 10 percent of every TV and sponsorship deal he brokered.
9. MLS might not be where it is without him: In 2006, Blazer persuaded his FIFA colleagues not to award U.S. English- and Spanish-language television rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups to NBC despite a $350 million bid. Blazer argued that because NBC didn't have the rights to MLS, it had no incentive to help grow the country's then-10-year-old domestic league. Blazer then orchestrated a deal among FIFA, ESPN and Univision -- for a combined $425 million -- that included MLS broadcasts. The agreement helped the league move into the "designated player" era, which eventually brought stars like David Beckham and Thierry Henry stateside.
10. He's a little eccentric: From the bushy beard to his larger-than-life personality, the 450-pound Blazer is a one-off. In addition to his $18,000-a-month apartment at Trump Tower, he rented a $6,000-per-month unit just for his cats. Despite his weight, he was often spotted riding the streets of New York on a scooter, and he would travel the world with his pet macaw, Max, on his shoulder -- documenting their lavish trips and meetings with world leaders like Nelson Mandela and Vladimir Putin on his personal blog before it all came crashing down.