LANSING, Mich. -- Former NBA player and Michigan State star Jay Vincent was sentenced Friday to more than five years in prison and ordered to pay more than $110,000 to the Internal Revenue Service for his part in a fraud case involving thousands of people who paid to become certified home inspectors.
Prosecutors say Vincent and an associate defrauded 20,000 people out of more than $1 million by charging them to become inspectors through a business called Foreclosure Bank Inspection. No inspectors were hired, and the business had no contracts with banks, according to the government.
Vincent, 52, pleaded guilty to fraud and tax charges nearly a year ago. On Friday, he apologized in federal court in Grand Rapids for his actions. His lawyers asked for probation so he could start repaying the victims, while prosecutors recommended nine years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker sentenced Vincent to 5½ years on a mail fraud charge involving the victims and three years on a tax fraud charge. The sentences are to run concurrently. Under federal law, Vincent could be eligible for time off for good behavior that could slightly reduce his sentence. Three other mail fraud charges were dismissed. The judge also ordered the $110,408 payment to the IRS.
The judge will decide in 60 days how much Vincent may have to pay the victims. Jonker wanted to give them more time to contact federal prosecutors if they haven't already done so.
"Today's sentencing of Jay Vincent shows how IRS Criminal Investigation will continue their pursuit of those who use fraudulent methods to corrupt our nation's tax system," said Erick Martinez, special agent in charge of the Detroit office of IRS Criminal Investigation.
His statement added that "honest taxpayers have been reassured today that no one is above the law, especially when the integrity of tax administration is at stake."
Former NBA star Magic Johnson, who played with Vincent on Michigan State's 1979 national championship team, wrote a letter to the judge earlier this week in which he said his childhood friend from Lansing and former college roommate was "incredibly remorseful."
"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 in his letter. "I believe he got involved with the wrong people and made some really bad decisions."
Johnson went on to ask the judge to for leniency for Vincent.
"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 wrote.
Vincent's attorneys said keeping Vincent out of prison would allow him to repay any court-ordered restitution.
"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 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.
The former basketball player spent the 1980s in the NBA with Dallas, Washington, Denver, San Antonio, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 15 points a game.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael MacDonald said anyone who was a victim of Vincent's scheme should contact the U.S. attorney's office within two months by calling (616) 808-2034 and asking for victim witness coordinator Kathy Schuette.
Kathy Barks Hoffman can be reached at http://twitter.com/kathybhoffman.