It was an unhappy day for Reginald Fowler, the man I’ve been following since his indictment on April 30, 2019. 

The ex-NFL co-owner went before a Manhattan judge today in a Zoom call from his home in Chandler, Arizona, to plead guilty to five counts: bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, operating a money transmitter business, conspiracy to operate a money transmitter business, and wire fraud. 

In 2018, Fowler found himself in a new career. He was moving money for crypto exchanges on behalf of Crypto Capital, a Panamanian shadow bank. At the time, traditional banks wanted little to do with crypto exchanges due to the money laundering risks they posed. 

The fifth count, added later in a superseding indictment, involved Fowler defrauding a new football league called the Alliance of American Football by giving them $25 million that belonged not to him, but to the customers of the cryptocurrency exchanges he was holding money for.

Fowler was 23 minutes late for the hearing. He had a terrible time calling in. When he finally did log into the call, he had himself inadvertently muted. His lawyer Ed Sapone kept making excuses while federal prosecutors waited. 

Once Fowler was audible, Judge Andrew Carter read through the charges, making sure that he understood each and every one of them. And then finally: “How do you plead?” 

“Guilty your honor.”

The judge then proceeded to run through the statutory penalties: a combined 40 years for counts one and two, a combined 10 years for counts three and four, and 30 years for count five. 

Fowler, who is 63 years old, also faces a government forfeiture. Over a period of 10 months in 2018, he processed $750 million in crypto transactions in various currencies, nearly $600 million in US dollars, according to a DoJ press release.  

Fowler’s voice sounded muffled. At times he stuttered. He read from a prepared script at the end, trying to tell the judge and prosecutors his version of events, though he was almost impossible to hear and the court reporter kept asking him to repeat himself. 

“This has been a long and difficult road. I wanted to accept responsibility in the right way,” he said. “I am deeply sorry, and I plan to make full amends.” 

Fowler said he knew nothing about cryptocurrency when he opened the bank accounts under false pretenses, telling the banks that the accounts were for his real estate business. 

“I did not know they were dealing with digital assets,” he said, speaking of Crypto Capital. “My understanding was that all the money was lawfully clean money.”  

It is hard to understand what Fowler was going for. Perhaps hoping for leniency from the judge? If he had accepted a plea deal offered to him in January 2020, he would have faced a much lighter sentence, perhaps only five years. Instead, he bulked in front of the judge. Soon after, he lost his initial legal team, after neglecting to pay them.

Even if Fowler had gone to trial, it would have been up to the US government to find him guilty of all charges. He may have stood a better chance. But also, he would have had to endure press coverage, and the media picking apart his every word. 

His trial, originally scheduled for February, was set for May 16. Last week, his lawyer wrote to the judge and said that Fowler wanted to change his plea to guilty. 

Fowler’s sentencing is scheduled for August 30 at 2 PM EST. 

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