Los Angeles (AFP) – Corrupt football official-turned-whistleblower Chuck Blazer, whose evidence helped trigger the FIFA bribery scandal, died Wednesday, his lawyers said.
Blazer, who was banned for life from all football activities for corruption in 2015, had been battling cancer up to his death. He was 72.
“We are truly saddened by the passing of our client and friend, Chuck Blazer,” his lawyers said in a statement to AFP.
“His misconduct, for which he accepted full responsibility, should not obscure Chuck’s positive impact on international soccer,” the statement added.
The bearded, hulking football official was a pivotal figure in the corruption scandal which convulsed FIFA in 2015 and ultimately led to the downfall of former supremo Sepp Blatter.
Yet for years Blazer himself was seen as emblematic of the worst excesses of FIFA during the Blatter era, unapologetically pocketing millions to fund a luxurious, globe-trotting VIP lifestyle.
His notorious excesses included an $18,000-a-month apartment in Trump Tower in New York — and a separate $6,000 unit in the same building just to keep his mob of unruly cats.
Blazer had pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges of racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion as part of a web of corruption that spanned multiple decades.
“Chuck felt profound sorrow and regret for his actions,” his attorneys said Wednesday. “He expressed sincere remorse towards his former constituents and colleagues, and to all of the soccer players and fans disappointed by his conduct.”
While FIFA banned Blazer in 2015, he had in fact cut a deal to work with investigators years earlier, taking recording devices into meetings to help build a case against corrupt officials across the globe.
– ‘Mr Ten Percent’ –
Blazer had risen to power through his work with CONCACAF, the ruling body for football in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, where he served as general secretary from 1990 until 2011.
He was a powerful member of FIFA’s corruption-tainted Executive Committee from 1996 to April 2013, when he was succeeded by US Soccer’s Sunil Gulati.
Blazer notoriously trousered vast earnings during his years as a football powerbroker, with one estimate suggesting he raked in millions to fund his extravagant lifestyle.
A 2013 report by CONCACAF’s integrity committee said Blazer had received more than $20.6 million in commissions, fees and rental payments from the organisation between 1996 to 2011.
Between 2004 and 2011, some $26 million of CONCACAF expenses were charged to his personal American Express account.
He was a close confidante of former CONCACAF President Jack Warner, who is also facing charges in the United States related to the scandal.
Blazer was nicknamed “Mr Ten Percent” due to an arrangement he had with CONCACAF which granted him 10 percent of the regional confederation’s revenues.
Blazer was unrepentant about the sums directed his way, however, insisting they were just reward for his work in helping to build the profile of football in the CONCACAF region.
“I’m perfectly satisfied that I did an excellent job,” Blazer once said about his sweetheart deal with CONCACAF.
“I spent 21 years building the confederation and its competitions and its revenues and I’m the one responsible for its good levels of income.”
– Opulent lifestyle: for cats –
However the opulent trappings of his office became ever more blatant.
During his tenure as one of football’s senior chieftains, Blazer kept a blog — “Travels with Chuck Blazer and Friends” — dedicated to chronicling his brushes with celebrities and world leaders, posing with the likes of Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela and Miss Universe.
Yet his luck ran out when he attempted to conceal his true level of income after failing to file tax returns between 2005 and 2010.
According to one account, Blazer was arrested in New York by an FBI agent and an Internal Revenue Service official in 2011 as he trundled along on a mobility scooter to a favorite Manhattan restaurant, the now-defunct celebrity hangout Elaine’s.
“We can take you away in handcuffs now or you can cooperate,” Blazer was reportedly told.