Joe Horn

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NEW ORLEANS - Federal prosecutors in Lexington, Kentucky, are recommending that former New Orleans Saints star Joe Horn spend 10 to 16 months behind bars for his role in a scheme to defraud a health care program for retired National Football League players, according to court documents.

Horn is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10. In preparation for that hearing, prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Lexington, where the retirement program’s administrator is based, filed a memo suggesting Horn serve prison time and pay a fine because his crime was “serious and presents a need for significant deterrence.”

However, prosecutors said they favored a sentence at the low end of the range because Horn promptly accepted responsibility for receiving $149,775 for fake claims submitted through the health benefit plan in 2018, and “he has the capacity to contribute meaningfully to society without engaging in additional criminal conduct.”

The final decision will fall to U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell, who’s already sentenced at least four other defendants in the case.

Joe Horn

Joe Horn signs an autograph at the 19th annual Saints Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic at Chateau Golf and Country Club in Kenner. (File photo by Susan Poag, The New Orleans Advocate)

Horn’s attorney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Friday. Horn has previously apologized to friends, family and fans, saying in part, “Unfortunately, we do not get to determine the consequences of ill-advised decisions.”

The sentencing memo summarizes some of the obstacles Horn endured before, during and after his NFL career, which lasted from 1996 through 2007.

The son of an abusive and alcoholic father, Horn was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother in North Carolina before he forged his reputation as a pro football player. He played several seasons for Kansas City and joined the Saints in 2000, becoming an important part of a New Orleans team that won the franchise’s first playoff victory in 2000 and the 2006 squad that secured the franchise’s first-ever conference championship game appearance.

Horn set team receiving records for the Saints and earned several berths to the Pro Bowl before he played the 2007 season with Atlanta and retired. He’s since dealt with “lingering effects from … concussions suffered during his NFL career,” Monday’s sentencing memo noted.

In retirement, Horn developed and sold a barbecue sauce named “Bayou 87,” paying tribute to the jersey number he wore for the Saints. Nonetheless, prosecutors said, Horn fell on hard financial times after his playing career, and to make money he began submitting false claims to the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Plan, which provided tax-free reimbursements for out-of-pocket medical costs that were not covered by insurance for former players, their spouses or dependents.

In 2018, Horn was approached by former Kansas City teammate Tamarick Vanover, who offered to help Horn pocket larger amounts of money from the retirement plan in return for a fee. That February, Horn let Vanover and former fellow NFL receiver Donald “Reche” Caldwell successfully submit a claim on his behalf for $52,000.

Horn kicked $11,000 of that back to Vanover and then submitted fake claims on his own behalf for the remaining $97,775 that he bilked from the program.

Horn, Vanover and Caldwell were among 10 retired NFL players charged in December 2019 with scamming the Upshaw plan. Horn pleaded guilty that month to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

A total of 14 other people have pleaded guilty as part of the case. Caldwell had pleaded not guilty before he was shot dead during a robbery late last year.

Former Washington and San Francisco player Carlos Rogers was sentenced to six months of house arrest after he pleaded guilty to receiving $6,500 for helping other players submit four false claims to the health care program, court records show. Ex-Washington player John Eubanks got 18 months behind bars for accepting $22,282 for helping other players submit 10 false claims.

Etric Pruitt, whose former teams include Atlanta and Seattle, was sentenced to three months for filing two false claims totaling $64,719. James Butler, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, got two months in prison for three false claims netting him $119,746.

Besides Horn and Caldwell, former Denver and Washington player Clinton Portis was among the more recognizable NFL personalities to be ensnared by the prosecution.

Horn is working as an assistant football coach at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He is an inductee of both the Saints and Louisiana Sports Halls of Fame. And he was among 122 players to make a preliminary list of candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022, which was released in September.

Horn's son, Jaycee Horn, is currently in his rookie NFL season playing cornerback for Carolina.

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