DETROIT -- Former NBA star Magic Johnson is asking a judge for "mercy" and no prison time for college teammate Jay Vincent, who is facing years behind bars for fraud.
Like Johnson, Vincent played in the NBA after the pair led Michigan State to the 1979 national championship. He pleaded guilty in a case involving thousands of people who paid to become certified home inspectors.
"I know what he did was wrong and I hope in time he will be able to repay all the people who lost money in this situation," Johnson said this week in a letter to U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker. "I believe he got involved with the wrong people and made some really bad decisions."
Vincent, 52, returns to federal court in Grand Rapids for sentencing Friday, nearly a year after pleading guilty to fraud and tax charges.
Prosecutors say he and an associate defrauded 20,000 people out of more than $1 million by charging them to become certified home inspectors through a business called Foreclosure Bank Inspection. No inspectors were hired, and the business had no contracts with banks, according to the government.
The U.S. attorney's office is recommending nine years in prison, the low end of the sentencing guidelines. Vincent has been in jail since late July after prosecutors accused him of writing, or causing others to write, bad checks in a different scheme while free on bond. He denies the allegations but could face more charges in Indiana.
Johnson and Vincent have known each other since childhood in Lansing and were roommates at Michigan State.
"With all due respect to the parties involved, and my heart goes out to them, I ask again that you consider his time served and have mercy on him and not allow this one incident of bad decision-making to change the course of his life," Johnson told the judge.
Vincent is "incredibly remorseful and I believe he has learned his lesson and in time will regain the trust of his community again," Johnson said.
Vincent is asking for probation so he can start repaying the victims.
"Mr. Vincent remains employable both locally and abroad. His successful basketball career continues to present him with opportunities coaching, instructing basketball camps and speaking," attorney Thomas Clement said in a court filing.
Vincent spent the 1980s in the NBA with Dallas, Washington, Denver, San Antonio, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 15 points a game.