Wednesday 26 October 2016

The US 'soccer Dad' who revelled in FIFA perks but turned into Fed's 'supergrass'

Chuck Blazer (left) with Sepp Blatter
Chuck Blazer (left) with Sepp Blatter

For more than two decades, Charles "Chuck" Blazer revelled in the perks of being general secretary of the confederation that oversees soccer in North and Central America.

He lived in a Trump Tower apartment, flew on private jets, dined at the world's finest restaurants, and hobnobbed with celebrities and world leaders.

He detailed much of it on his blog, "Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends" which features pictures of Blazer with Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Prince William, among others. Describing his meeting with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a November 2010 post, Blazer wrote: "He looked at me with a very serious gaze and said, without cracking a smile, 'You know, you look like Karl Marx!' "

Yesterday, Blazer, now 70 and suffering from cancer, emerged as a key cooperating witness in a sweeping US investigation into corruption at FIFA, the global soccer body based in Zurich. Confronted with his own tax problems by the Internal Revenue Service years ago, Blazer agreed to wear a hidden microphone in meeting with FIFA officials.

He pleaded guilty to charges that include racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and money laundering.

A rotund man with thick curly hair and a beard, Blazer easily could've passed as, if not Marx, then a department-store Santa Claus. (He had a fondness for costumes and can be seen on his blog as Santa, a pirate, and Obi-Wan Kenobi from "Star Wars.")

Blazer, a one-time soccer dad from New York's Westchester County, helped elect Jack Warner, a former history teacher from Trinidad and Tobago, as president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football in 1990. Blazer then served as his deputy, and together they built up CONCACAF, as the confederation is known, strengthening its finances and political power.

Blazer was in charge of increasing CONCACAF's revenues, and in many ways he was spectacularly successful. Before 1990, "CONCACAF was a languishing confederation with few resources, little or no sponsorships or broadcast revenues, and events and competitions that, at best, had achieved limited success," according to a 2013 internal report.

He and Warner added staff, sponsors and high-profile tournaments like the Gold Cup while pulling in more than $25 million a year by 2010 for the confederation. They both became members of FIFA President Sepp Blatter's inner circle, with Warner serving as vice president of FIFA and Blazer elevated to the executive committee.

In doing so, Blazer allegedly enriched himself too, even using his blog to flaunt his lavish lifestyle, one made possible by a steady and growing flow of money from FIFA and CONCACAF events -- and little accountability. Blazer set up shop in the Trump Tower in New York, which replaced Guatemala City as the home of CONCACAF's headquarters.

He wasn't a CONCACAF employee, in a technical sense. Rather, the confederation signed contracts with third parties that set out the terms of his employment, including a 10 percent commission on all CONCACAF sponsorships and TV contracts, plus expenses.

According to the 2013 internal report and interviews with CONCACAF employees, the confederation or a subsidiary paid for Blazer's $18,000 a month apartment on the 49th floor of Trump Tower, which he shared with a noisy macaw named Max; an adjoining one-bedroom apartment that he sometimes used as an office; two waterfront apartments in Miami; and a $49,000 Hummer H2, plus a $600-a-month parking spot.


In all, Blazer received more than $20.6 million from CONCACAF from 1996 through 2011, according to the report. He and his employees also charged more than $26 million in confederation expenses on his personal American Express card, from 2004 to 2011, the report found. The confederation would then cover the balance.

While Blazer may have boosted CONCACAF's revenues, he neglected to pay income taxes for the confederation and a subsidiary for at least four years, the internal report found. As a result of the finding, CONCACAF lost its non-profit status and is still fighting to regain it from the Internal Revenue Service.

Ultimately, Blazer turned on Warner, tasking an attorney to investigate allegations that Mohamed bin Hammam, head of soccer in Asia and a candidate for FIFA president at the time, offered Caribbean soccer officials $40,000 apiece for "football development" just before the election.

The findings were then turned over to FIFA, who eventually ousted Bin Hammam. Warner, who invited Bin Hammam to address the delegates and urged them to keep the money, resigned in 2011.

Blazer resigned later that year. According to a November report in the New York Daily News, Blazer began cooperating with federal authorities in 2011, after being confronted with the fact that he hadn't paid taxes in more than a decade. He e- mailed soccer officials prior to the 2012 London Olympics and arranged meetings with them, secretly recording them on a hidden microphone embedded in a fob on his keychain, the Daily News reported.

Blazer, who grew up in Queens, made his first fortune in his 20s as the owner of a button manufacturer when smiley-face pins took off. He began coaching his son's soccer team in New Rochelle, New York, in 1976. He found that he was better as a soccer administrator than on the sidelines, according to a 2010 profile in Sports Business Journal.

By 2008, World Soccer magazine named him 14th among the globe's 100 Movers and Shakers.

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