TRENTON, N.J. – A former NBA player convicted of fraud in what federal prosecutors say was a real estate Ponzi scheme that swindled other current and former players acted as his own attorney Wednesday as he sought to make his case for a lighter sentence.
Wearing a green prison jumpsuit and leg shackles and towering over others in the courtroom, Tate George reiterated claims he made during his 2013 trial — that his real estate ventures were legitimate (and in some cases, ongoing even now) and that he didn't mislead investors.
That group included current NBA player Charlie Villanueva, former player Brevin Knight and "The Apprentice" winner Randal Pinkett. They lost several hundred thousand dollars altogether, according to prosecutors.
George, a 6-foot-5 guard, played for the NBA's New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. The Newark native is best remembered for a buzzer-beating shot for UConn in a 1990 NCAA tournament game against Clemson.
The U.S. attorney's office contended George persuaded victims to invest in real estate opportunities by lying about his company's assets and projects, then took their money and used it for personal expenses and to pay off earlier investors.
George, who has been in jail since his conviction on four wire fraud counts in the fall of 2013, has been representing himself since last December when an attorney who had replaced his trial attorney withdrew from the case.
Each count carries a maximum 20-year sentence, but George is likely to face far less time.
An FBI agent testified Wednesday that investors' money was used to pay George's personal expenses and pay earlier investors.
Much of the hearing focused on how much money investors lost, which will affect the length of George's sentence. The hearing will continue on Thursday, when the government plans to present a forensic account to buttress its claims.
Appearing relaxed and even joking with U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper at times, George appeared to attempt to cast himself merely as a businessman struggling to raise money to get projects off the ground. The government, he told Cooper, "took snapshots" of his bank accounts that didn't give an accurate overall picture. George also said some of the projects were still in progress, and that he was still trying to pay back investors.
"I have taken full responsibility from day one," he said.
In previous attempts to toss out the verdict, George argued in court filings that the projects were legitimate and that some of the alleged victims still had money invested in some of them and could still reap returns.
He also claimed prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that could have cleared him, and said his attorney failed to call key witnesses during the trial.
The trial judge rejected those claims this fall.