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Schlichter Is Sacked for a Two-Year Loss : Jurisprudence: Former quarterback gets maximum penalty for bank fraud in Las Vegas.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arthur Ernest Schlichter probably never thought this time would come. Somehow, he probably never figured there would be a situation he couldn’t talk himself out of, one he couldn’t charm his way through. Never did he think the game would really be over.

Friday in U.S. Federal Court, Schlichter, dressed in prison grays, stood before Judge Philip Pro and pleaded for a lenient sentence for his conviction on $175,000 in bank fraud--a charge he had pleaded guilty to in November.

Speaking in a humble voice laced with his Midwestern accent, Schlichter admitted he is a compulsive gambler and said he was ashamed of crimes he has committed. “I don’t blame anybody but myself,” he said. Then he asked for a reduced sentence that would, at the very least, split time between prison and a halfway house.

Pro listened intently to Schlichter, and it soon became apparent that what Pro was seeing was not a former pro quarterback, not an Ohio State star, not a radio talk-show celebrity, not even a compulsive gambler. He was not overtaken by Schlichter’s status in society, as were a multitude of victims in this town. He told Schlichter that his gambling problem was not the court’s responsibility to correct.

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Instead, Pro saw a criminal, and with that reasoning, Schlichter, 34, was sentenced to two years in the Terre Haute (Ind.) Federal Prison followed by five years’ probation and complete monetary restitution--the maximum penalty allowed under Schlichter’s plea agreement.

“The buck stops with you,” Pro said before handing down the sentence, “you don’t have to be a pro athlete to know that. You never have to run a race or throw a football to know you have to take responsibility for your conduct and you pay a price when that doesn’t happen.”

Schlichter hung his head in despair. His mother, Myla, cried. His attorney, Ben Kay, asked Pro if Schlichter could visit with his friends and family at the courthouse, but the judge said no, there wasn’t enough room.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Schlichter called to the group as he was escorted to a holding center.

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Later, though, at the North Las Vegas Jail, where he has been held since Nov. 10, he did not want to talk. Having scheduled an interview with a reporter, he told Sgt. Kary Kitchen to cancel it. “He’s pretty distraught,” Kitchen said.

Schlichter, who has lost about 50 pounds since being incarcerated, has lived in Las Vegas only since last spring, having come here to work as the afternoon drive-time talk host for radio station KVEG. His gambling problems had been heavily chronicled throughout his professional football career with the Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts, with Pete Rozelle suspending Schlichter in 1983 for betting on NFL games during his 1982 rookie season.

Rozelle reinstated Schlichter in 1984, before the Colts released him the beginning of the next season. But in 1987, Rozelle barred Schlichter from the league.

“In our interview, I asked him, ‘Art, with your gambling situation, why would you want to move to Las Vegas?’ ” said KVEG owner Jerry Kutner, who said he thought Schlichter had a handle on his problem.

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“And he said, ‘You can gamble anywhere in this country but at least here, it is legal.’ ”

It was through the radio station that Schlichter found many of his victims, listeners who readily accepted the chance to socialize with a celebrity. Observers say he would befriend his listeners, meeting them for a beer or asking them to join his softball team. At the least, he would try to get their phone numbers to call them back later.

One of those listeners was Jeffrey Bridgens, whom Schlichter recruited to deposit more than $18,000 in stolen checks and then withdraw $14,500 in cash, according to court documents. The stolen checks belonged to Schlichter’s sister-in-law and were from an account that was closed. Upon finding out, Schlichter’s wife, Mitzi, headed home to Indiana with their two daughters.

Schlichter also talked Bridgens into providing him with blank checks from Bridgens’ checking account. Twenty-six checks were negotiated for a total of $75,800. At least one of those checks Schlichter talked listener Kerry Cartmill into cashing, according to court documents. “Art began weaving his web of deception by telling my husband if the check didn’t get cashed he couldn’t take his child to the doctor or buy groceries,” Desiree Cartmill wrote in a letter to Judge Pro.

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Meanwhile, the listeners being defrauded kept quiet, said Kutner, who said he didn’t know what was going on. “Art just kept the circle going, taking money from one and giving it to the other,” he said, “until he ran out of people.

“He stole 25 of my blank personal checks and went to Treasure Island casino and tried to cash one for about $1,700,” Kutner said. “The casino faxed a copy of the check to my bank for signature verification, and they called me. I said no, that couldn’t be my signature, and as a matter of fact, I am missing 25 checks.”

The FBI started their investigation when a bank called to report Schlichter, who went on to defraud major casinos and local businessmen of thousands.

“Banks are required to report fraud to us, but the private citizen may say, ‘I’m not going to be the one to rat on somebody who has achieved a high place in society,’ ” said John Ham, U.S. District Attorney. “Out here (in Nevada) it’s different, but back in the Midwest, Schlichter has a status that I don’t think we can fully appreciate out here.”

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Prosecutors estimate Schlichter has stolen $500,000 overall, including fraud charges he faces in Indianapolis and local charges pending in Nevada. In April 1994, he was indicted in Cincinnati on fraud charges.

Kay, Schlichter’s attorney, made a last-ditch effort Friday to have the sentence reduced, calling compulsive gambling expert Arnie Wexler to testify. Wexler said that in his 12 years of dealing with Schlichter, he had never seen him at this stage, which he called a “phase of desperation.”

Wexler advocated that the best sentence for Schlichter would be to get treatment at a center or halfway house, not in prison. “In federal prison there is no help and no treatment for compulsive gamblers,” Wexler said. “More gambling goes on in prison than anywhere.”

But the judge saw it differently.

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“What this court will do today should have been done some time ago,” Ham said. “Maybe justice has been delayed too long. In the past he has been shown too much leniency.”


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