Marketing executive pleads not guilty in FIFA scandal

NEW YORK (AP) A sports marketing executive from Florida pleaded not guilty on Friday to conspiracy and other charges stemming from the FIFA corruption scandal.

Aaron Davidson entered the plea through his lawyer in federal court in Brooklyn, becoming the first of defendant in the sprawling case to be arraigned in a U.S. court. He was released on $5 million bond secured with homes owned by he and his wife and other family members.

Davidson was arrested in Miami on Wednesday, the same day U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and other officials announced the case at a news conference in New York City. None mentioned his arrest and he was escorted to Brooklyn by the FBI, suggesting he is cooperating like four other defendants who have pleaded guilty.

Both Davidson and his lawyer declined comment as they left the courthouse.

Davidson, 44, was among the 14 people named in racketeering indictment accusing soccer officials of accepting more than $150 million in bribes. Prosecutors say they took the cash in exchange for rigging bids by marketing firms for commercial contracts that generate billions of dollars in revenue and by countries seeking to host the 2010 World Cup.

The indictment accuses Davidson of being involved in a $3 million bribe sought by a FIFA vice president and executive committee member in 2012. The bribe resulted in a $24 million contract with Davidson's firm, Miami-based Traffic Sports USA Inc., that gave it marketing rights for World Cup qualifying matches, it says.

The indictment also describes a 2014 meeting in New York between Davidson and an unnamed co-conspirator to discuss the bribery schemes.

''Is it illegal? It is illegal,'' it quotes Davidson as saying about the arrangements. ''Within the big picture of things, a company that has worked in this industry for 30 years, is it bad? It is bad.''

A statement posted Friday on the Traffic Sports website said the company would continue normal business operations while it cooperates with authorities. Prosecutors say the firm, which owns the Carolina RailHawks of the North American Soccer League, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy in mid-May.

Davidson's next court date was set for July 17.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.