Former FIFA ExCo member turned informant Chuck Blazer dies at 72
Chuck Blazer, the disgraced American soccer executive whose admissions of corruption set off a global scandal that ultimately toppled FIFA president Sepp Blatter, has died. He was 72.
Blazer's death was announced Wednesday by his lawyers, Eric Corngold and Mary Mulligan. At a November 2013 court hearing during which Blazer entered guilty pleas to federal charges, Blazer said he had rectal cancer, diabetes and coronary artery disease.
In 2015, Blazer was banned from football for life by FIFA for what the governing body called his "many acts of misconduct" at the organization and as general secretary of the CONCACAF confederation.
The ban stemmed in part from Blazer's admission that he and others on FIFA's ruling panel agreed to receive bribes in voting for the hosts of the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, France and South Africa, respectively.
Blazer, who was born on April 26, 1945, in New York City, began as a volunteer soccer administrator only to rise to the highest echelons of power within the sport. For over 20 years, Blazer teamed with former CONCACAF president Jack Warner to grow the region's governing body from a small-time outfit into a soccer marketing powerhouse that helped grow the game and the confederation.
It was in part through Blazer's efforts that FIFA chose the U.S. to host the 1994 World Cup. He was named to FIFA's powerful executive committee in 1997, and he remained there until 2013.
"I've known Chuck for a lot of years. He did a lot for the sport. Sorry about all the issues regarding FIFA, but he was a good man," U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena said. "He helped the sport in the United States."
But CONCACAF's growth came in spite of rampant graft and corruption, with Blazer a willing participant in bribery and kickback schemes that earned him tens of millions of dollars and the nickname "Mr. 10 Percent." At one stage, Blazer reportedly owned two apartments in Trump Tower, one for himself and another for his cats.
In a bid to hide his income, Blazer stopped paying federal income taxes. This eventually caught the attention of the FBI and the IRS, which confronted Blazer in 2011. The FBI turned Blazer into a confidential informant, and it was with Blazer's help that the U.S. Department of Justice eventually indicted dozens of soccer administrators from around the world.
That included Warner, whom Blazer broke with in 2011 when the Trinidad and Tobago native attempted to bribe members of the Caribbean Football Union in a bid to have Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam elected FIFA president. Bin Hammam had been the lone challenger to Blatter for the FIFA presidency at the time, but Blatter was elected unopposed to a fourth term after Warner and Bin Hammam were suspended. Blatter was elected to a fifth term in 2015 before resigning.
A CONCACAF investigation report released in 2013 said Blazer "misappropriated CONCACAF funds to finance his personal lifestyle," causing the organization to "subsidize rent on his residence in the Trump Tower in New York; purchase apartments at the Mondrian, a luxury hotel and residence in Miami; sign purchase agreements and pay down payments on apartments at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas."
U.S. government agents stopped him on a Manhattan street, threatened him with arrest, and he became a government informant.
"Chuck hoped to help bring transparency, accountability and fair play to CONCACAF, FIFA and soccer as a whole," his lawyers said in a statement. "Chuck also accepted responsibility for his own conduct by pleading guilty and owning up to his mistakes. Chuck felt profound sorrow and regret for his actions."
Blazer pleaded guilty in November 2013 to one count each of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and willful failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, and to six counts of tax evasion. He forfeited $1.9 million and agreed to forfeit a second amount, but he was never jailed as the investigation continued. He was banned from soccer for life by FIFA on July 9, 2015.
"His misconduct, for which he accepted full responsibility, should not obscure Chuck's positive impact on international soccer," his lawyers said in a statement. "With Chuck's guidance and leadership, CONCACAF transformed itself from impoverished to profitable."
ESPN FC writer Jeff Carlisle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.