Former football star says brain injury spurred tax evasion

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ORLANDO, Fla. - From playing professional football to prison, a man faces up to 10 years behind bars for his part in an elaborate tax scheme that stole millions.

He claims a brain injury spurred the crime.

That former football star, Freddie Mitchell, hoped an Orlando federal judge would show him mercy Tuesday.

Mitchell, a retired Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver, was convicted in an elaborate tax fraud scheme in which he cheated the government out of millions of dollars.

Channel 9's Lori Brown was the only reporter in the courtroom Thursday during Mitchell's sentencing.

Freddie Mitchell's attorneys had the judge watch a two-hour documentary about the link between NFL football and brain injuries.

The Lakeland native argued the disorder contributed to his crime.

Freddie Mitchell made millions scoring touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles, but those millions apparently were not enough.

The 34-year-old retired wide receiver was convicted of cheating the government out of millions of dollars through a scheme involving phony tax returns.

"Are you sorry for what you did?" asked Channel 9's Lori Brown.

"Very," Mitchell said.

"You didn't see all the charity events I did; maybe you all should come to them," Mitchell said.

Eyewitness News did see the details of his indictment.

It spells out an elaborate tax fraud scheme and says Mitchell's role was to recruit athletes as clients for a tax return service run by Jamie and Richard Walls.

The scheme came to light after he recruited Milwaukee Bucks power forward Drew Gooden, according to a civil suit.

Gooden became friends with Mitchell when they both lived in central Florida.

Mitchell said the Walls brothers got him a $1 million tax return.

Gooden met with the Wallses and later wrote a $100,000 check for the return.

Mitchell would not give him a copy of the return.

It had a fake business loss totaling $5.3 million and falsely claimed a $2 million refund.

Gooden did not know the phony return was filed and filed a legal return.

But when the Internal Revenue Service got the real return, it had already mailed the $2 million refund to the Walls brothers.

"Mr. Mitchell, why did your brain injury cause you to break the law?" Brown asked.

"This is an epidemic going on in the NFL where it was hidden for many years. It's now come to light," attorney Mark NeJame said.