Sam Allard / Scene
Reggie Rucker and Community Members, talking violence interruption pre-Brelo at the Zelma George Community Center
Reggie Rucker, the former Cleveland Browns wide receiver and head of two local "violence interruption" organizations, was charged in Federal Court for using charitable donations to pay off gambling debts and other personal expenses.
Law enforcement officials said that Rucker used the money for his mortgage, meals, entertainment and travel expenses, and then lied about it when questioned by investigating authorities.
He's being charged with one count each of wire fraud and making false statements to law enforcement. A plea deal is expected.
Rucker was characterized by Acting U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon, in a statement, as having used the account of his local charities as a personal ATM.
“Reggie Rucker misused his celebrity and position in the community to dupe some of our most important local foundations and generous citizens,” Rendon said. “He stole from the very violence interrupters he so publicly claimed to support. In one breath he begged generous donors to save Amer-I-Can and the Peacemakers Alliance, and in the next he stole that money to support his lifestyle and his gambling junkets in Cleveland, Florida, and Las Vegas."
Rucker was in charge of both the nonprofit Amer-I-Can Cleveland and the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, which employed "violence interrupters" to "work the streets."
Rucker said in community meetings before the Michael Brelo verdict that "his guys" would be comfortable doing the ground work, should violence break out. Many of his employees were former gang members and had profitable street connections — "a certain skill set that only these guys have," Rucker told Scene
at the time.
But those guys were seldom paid. Rucker would often appeal to local foundations for "bridge funding" to pay his street outreach teams who went months at a stretch without compensation.
The donations Rucker solicited were largely used to fund his own lifestyle. On several occasions, he wrote himself checks shortly after receiving foundation support and immediately forwarded that money to Las Vegas casinos, where he'd racked up excessive debts.
In January, 2013; January, 2014; and September, 2014; Rucker incurred debts of $20,000, $25,000 and $20,000, respectively, all of which he paid with foundation grants.
In total, Rucker withdrew more than $500,000 from the Amer-I-Can account (which also housed the Peacemakers' funds) between 2011 and February 2015, when he was questioned by federal investigators.
When Cleveland.com revealed that Rucker was under investigation in July, he said he was cooperating fully and claimed to have been set up.