TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A former NBA player best known for his 1990 tournament buzzer-beater for the University of Connecticut was convicted Monday of four counts of federal wire fraud in a Ponzi scheme that netted him $2 million.
Authorities said Tate George carried out a profitable scheme that lined his pockets from 2005 to early 2011, even though his purported real estate development firm — The George Group — had virtually no income-generating operation.
Prosecutors say he used money from new investors to pay previous investors or for home improvements and personal expenses, including his daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party. George also gave money to family members and friends and spent nearly $3,000 to promote a Tate George “reality show” that is still available on YouTube.
A federal jury in Trenton, N.J., returned the verdict after a three-week trial. Prosecutors say George’s bail was immediately revoked, and his sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 16.
“The defendant has an incentive to run,” Joseph Shumofsky, the lead federal prosecutor, told the judge. “If your honor lets him walk out of the courthouse today, there is more than a good chance that we will never see him again.”
Each count of wire fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
George spent four seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. He’s best known for catching a full-court pass and sinking a jumper at the buzzer to give UConn a victory in a 1990 NCAA regional semifinal against Clemson.
During the trial, prosecutors said George held himself out as the CEO of The George Group and claimed to have more than $500 million in assets under management. He pitched prospective investors, including several former pro athletes, to invest with the firm and told them their money would be used to fund the purchase and development of real estate projects, including some in Connecticut and New Jersey.
George told some prospective investors that their funds would be held in an attorney trust account, prosecutors said, and he personally guaranteed the return of their investments, with interest.