Web of Deceit Smooth-talking agent Tank Black allegedly ensnared nearly two dozen NFL and NBA players, including Vince Carter, in a mind-boggling series of scams and defrauded them of some $15 million

May 29, 2000
May 29, 2000

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May 29, 2000

Web of Deceit Smooth-talking agent Tank Black allegedly ensnared nearly two dozen NFL and NBA players, including Vince Carter, in a mind-boggling series of scams and defrauded them of some $15 million

By L. Jon Wertheim Special Reporting by Don Yaeger and B.J. Schecter

Fred Taylor called his agent Pops. That's because Tank Black
didn't merely negotiate the contract of the Jacksonville Jaguars
running back, but he was also, as Taylor puts it, "like a second
dad." Black was the man Taylor would call at all hours to
discuss personal problems. He was the jovial, fun-loving man who
gave Taylor expensive gifts and flew him to Cancun in a private
jet. He was the man who earned Taylor's unconditional trust.
"You've got to understand the way I thought of Tank," says
Taylor, his voice trailing off. "You don't have a lot of
relationships like that in your life."

This is an article from the May 29, 2000 issue Original Layout

So last fall, when Taylor read in the newspaper that the $3.6
million he had entrusted to Black--his entire 1998 signing bonus
after taxes--had been lost in a pyramid scheme, Taylor went
through a variation of the stages of grief. First there was
denial: Taylor reflexively became Black's staunchest defender,
telling anyone who would listen that his agent was simply being
smeared by jealous rivals. "I knew how bad it was," Taylor says,
"but I just tried not to admit it." The second stage,
depression, ensued when FBI agents confirmed to Taylor that his
money had vanished. Already dejected after an exasperating
season in which he was hampered by a strained left hamstring,
Taylor became despondent, less from the financial hit than from
the knowledge that a good friend had betrayed him. "That kind of
information can mess with your mind," Taylor says. Eventually
his sadness led to anger. "I was very, very upset," he says. "A
go-grab-a-gun type of upset." He's still grappling with
acceptance. In the meantime, he has filed a lawsuit seeking to
recover the money he lost.

Hurtling past the Appalachian countryside with the smell of
palmetto in the air, the two men drove through the night. It was
fall 1987, and Tank Black and Jim Washburn, assistant football
coaches for the University of South Carolina, were on a
recruiting trip. They were trying to land a Murphy, N.C., high
school star named Carl Pickens--the future NFL wideout--but
Black's mind was elsewhere. "He was a successful young coach,
but he told me that night that he was leaving the profession,"
recalls Washburn, now an assistant for the Tennessee Titans. "I
asked him what he was going to do, and he was real vague. He
just said, 'I have an opportunity to make a lot of money.'"

Over the next decade Black came out of nowhere to become one of
the most prominent sports agents in the country. By May 1999,
Black's Columbia, S.C.-based company, Professional Marketing
Incorporated (PMI), had more than 35 NFL players as clients,
including Taylor, New York Giants wide receiver Ike Hilliard,
New England Patriots running back Terry Allen and Carolina
Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth. Black had made history a
month earlier by signing an unprecedented five first-round picks
in the NFL draft, among them defensive end Jevon Kearse, who
would become the league's defensive rookie of the year and lead
the Titans to the Super Bowl. For good measure, Black also
represented NBA superstar-in-the-making Vince Carter of the
Toronto Raptors. "What can I say?" Black, wearing black
sweatpants and a tattered Oakland Raiders sweatshirt, told SI
last September in Toronto. "It's a very financially successful

Not anymore. His life and business a shambles, Black, 43, has a
starring role in what federal investigators claim is the biggest
case of agent fraud in the history of sports. The subject of a
civil suit filed in February by the Securities and Exchange
Commission alleging fraud as well as a federal indictment filed
in Gainesville, Fla., in February for money laundering,
conspiracy and criminal forfeiture, Black is accused of
defrauding clients and mismanaging approximately $15 million of
their money. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Jacquez Green
and Detroit Lions wideout Germane Crowell each allegedly lost in
the neighborhood of $500,000. Carter, the jewel in PMI's crown
(until he severed relations with Black in March), lost about
$300,000. (Black has denied all the allegations and pleaded not
guilty to the charges against him; on the advice of his lawyers,
he declined interview requests from SI after the indictment.)

Yet the SEC case and the Gainesville indictment might be the
least of Black's troubles. According to three sources close to
the case, a federal grand jury in Detroit has been considering
whether to indict Black for allegedly laundering money for a
Detroit drug-trafficking ring. Federal investigators have
testified that Black filtered narcotics money through offshore
accounts in the Cayman Islands and helped a fugitive drug dealer
flee the U.S. The Detroit drug case, said one federal
investigator, "goes all the way to Bogota."

Over the past 18 months Black has been investigated by
authorities in two states (Florida and Louisiana) and by three
federal agencies (the SEC, the FBI and the IRS). Yet the
seriousness of the allegations now swirling around him has left
even some of his pursuers stunned. When the NFL Players
Association completed a four-month probe and threatened Black
with a possible lifetime ban in May 1999, the union's principal
concern was that Black had made under-the-table payments to
players at the University of Florida. Says Richard Berthelsen,
general counsel for the union, whose efforts to decertify Black
are continuing even as the agent addresses the federal charges
against him, "Comparing where things are now to where they were
when we first got involved is like comparing an orchard to an

The saga of William H. Black begins in Greeneville, Tenn., a
soporific town best known as the home of Andrew Johnson, the
first American president to be impeached. Black claims he was
dubbed Tank at birth when he emerged from his mother's womb
weighing nearly 11 pounds. His mother died when he was an
infant, his father was never in the picture, and Tank was raised
in poverty by his grandmother, Susie Black.

Tank tells friends that it was sports that helped bolster his
self-esteem as a kid. Endowed with good speed and a brick wall
of a chest, he was a football star at Greeneville High. At 5'8"
and 160 pounds, Black was too small to play wide receiver in
Division I, so he attended Carson-Newman College in nearby
Jefferson City, Tenn., and became a three-time NAIA All-America
and the school's alltime leading pass catcher. "He was a
hard-nosed player who always had that underdog's mentality,"
says David Barger, the school's athletic director. "He always
played like he deserved to be big time."

After graduating with a degree in business administration, Black
had a failed tryout with the Atlanta Falcons. He returned to
Greeneville to care for his ailing grandmother and became an
assistant coach at Greeneville High. A year later he joined the
staff at Tennessee-Chattanooga, and three years after that, in
1983, he landed a job as wide receivers coach at South Carolina.
As a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner who cut a confident figure and
oozed charm, he was an irresistible recruiter; as someone not
far removed from his own playing days, he related well to
athletes. "He was made for this profession," says Washburn.
"We're talking NFL head coach material."

In 1987, however, Black left the Gamecocks' program, telling
friends that coach Joe Morrison had promised him a promotion to
offensive coordinator but reneged when "influential people in
the athletic department" were opposed to hiring a black for that
position. (South Carolina's athletic director at the time, Bob
Marcum, now AD at Massachusetts, denies Black's assertions.)

Though he had few qualifications to be a sports agent other than
boundless charisma, Black made contacts that would lead him into
that business. Pursuing the moneymaking opportunity he had
mentioned on his recruiting drive with Washburn, he worked with
Tony Dutt, now an NBA agent, selling insurance--often to
athletes--in Houston before returning to Columbia. In 1990,
Black started PMI with Bill Bradshaw, a Columbia businessman and
former South Carolina wide receiver whom Black had coached. For
several years Black had only one marquee client, Green Bay
Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, another former Gamecock,
and PMI was a typical fledgling business. At times Black
borrowed from one credit card to pay another. He claims he once
dipped into his retirement account for several thousand dollars
needed to keep the company afloat. To supplement his income, he
partnered with a friend from Detroit, Linda Wilson, and opened a
travel agency, World Express Travel, in Columbia.

"It was slow going at first," says Bradshaw of the early years
of PMI. (He split amicably with Black in 1993 and now runs an
investment firm in Columbia.) "But there was certainly nothing I
saw that wasn't aboveboard."

In time the same poise, polish and persistence that made Black
an effective recruiter helped him build his firm's clientele.
Laying on his slow, country drawl and homespun eloquence, he
could make anyone feel at ease. Black first approached Taylor at
the end of his junior season at Florida, in 1996, and the two
hit it off immediately. "Right away he was someone I could talk
to," says Taylor, who was born to a 15-year-old mother and, like
Black, raised in the South.

Black was also masterly at winning over athletes' parents.
Michelle Carter-Robinson, Vince Carter's mother, didn't even
want to meet Black when he first made his pitch for Vince in
1998, after Carter, who had just finished his junior season,
declared he was leaving North Carolina. Once she did, though,
she was disarmed by Black's seemingly genuine concern for her
son's future. "What we wanted was someone who 10 years after
Vince stopped playing ball would remember that his birthday is
on January 26 and send him a card," says Carter-Robinson, who,
until meeting Black, was considering representing her son
herself. "Once we met Tank and his staff, we knew they were the

When his charm didn't close the deal right away, Black could
become dogged. When Black tried to persuade Florida wide
receiver Reidel Anthony, now with Tampa Bay, to sign with PMI,
he virtually took up residence in South Bay, Fla., where
Reidel's father, Clarence, is the mayor. "Mr. Anthony said, 'How
long are you going to be here?'" Black recalled in March. "I
said, 'Mr. Anthony, I don't know. I'm really not planning on
leaving until you can actually look at me and tell me you think
we're the best company for your son.'" Eventually Clarence
relented, and Reidel signed with Black.

According to the SEC suit, the first scheme Black perpetrated
was remarkable in its simplicity. In addition to his ownership
of PMI and part ownership of World Express Travel, Black sat on
the board of a small California-based company called Black
Americans of Achievement (BAOA) starting in October 1995. Traded
publicly on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board, BAOA sold board
games, not unlike Trivial Pursuit, that celebrated prominent
African-Americans. As compensation Black received an annual
salary of $120,000 as well as 450,000 shares of stock.

In 1996, the SEC suit alleges, Black persuaded the company's
officers to approve a consulting agreement with various PMI
clients under which the athletes would receive shares of BAOA
stock for providing promotional services. Black, however, never
discussed this arrangement with his clients, nor did any athlete
sign the agreement. (Black told BAOA officers he was vested with
power of attorney by the athletes; in fact, he was not.) Over a
period of two years, according to the suit, Black received
roughly two million shares of BAOA stock earmarked for 15 PMI
clients by falsely claiming that they had done work on behalf of
the company.

The shares in hand, Black raved to the athletes about BAOA's
extraordinary growth potential and encouraged them to buy its
stock. He asserted that the Reverend Jesse Jackson was a
principal investor in BAOA (Jackson only served as a member of
the BAOA advisory board, according to his spokesman) and even
offered to refund his clients' investment within two years if
they lost money on the deal. Then, the SEC suit alleges, Black
not only sold the players the shares that should have been
theirs for free, but also did so at a vastly inflated price--and
charged them a commission for handling the transaction. Between
March 1996 and November '97, when BAOA was trading between four
cents and 28 cents per share, Black was charging his clients 50
cents to $1 per share. What's more, when his clients bought the
stock, he instructed them to write their checks to PE
Communications, a corporate shell he had created that had no
relation to BAOA. According to the SEC suit, Black then
transferred nearly all the money--$1.1 million--from PE
Communications into his personal account.

Had any of his clients checked BAOA's stock price, Black would
have had a lot of explaining to do. But the clients, like many
other professional athletes, had little in the way of financial
acumen. The Bucs' Green, for example, said in testimony to the
SEC that he had never had a checking account before signing with
Black. Other players thought nothing of it when Black casually
told them he would parlay their modest initial investment into
millions within two years by putting it in BAOA stock.

"Professional athletes are prime candidates for financial
fraud," says Michael Fuchs, a lawyer for the SEC in its case
against Black. "Many are unsophisticated in financial matters
and suddenly find themselves with a six- or seven-figure salary.
They're young, they're trusting, and they've been taken care of
for most of their lives." Adds NFLPA president Trace Armstrong,
the Miami Dolphins' veteran defensive end, "The worst thing is,
a lot of times guys who get burned are embarrassed, so they
never say anything or report it."

By all accounts Black thrived on his players' fiscal
inexperience; instead of educating them about their portfolios,
he exploited their dependence on him. Black had virtual carte
blanche access to his clients' finances, and several PMI
employees had the power to write and cash checks in the
athletes' names. In a rich slice of irony, a portion of PMI's
promotional brochure read: A successful athlete simply does not
have the time to research, study, compare and negotiate every
opportunity that arises. Too often the result is a missed
opportunity or a hasty decision that results in a less than fair

Around the same time that Black was allegedly pulling his BAOA
scam, his approach to running PMI changed dramatically. Former
employees recall that Black had always been preternaturally
budget-conscious, ordering them to drive through the night on
business trips--lest they have to pay for a hotel--and taking
weeks to reimburse them for gas money. Black usually embarked on
recruiting visits in his GMC truck. Seemingly overnight,
beginning in early 1997, that frugality vanished. Black was
suddenly dressing in expensive suits and chartering a private
plane. He was also, three former Florida football players later
testified, paying college athletes in cash, often through
"runners" spread around the Southeast. Before long PMI was
prospering as never before: The more capital Black had at his
disposal, the more he could invest in recruiting; the more he
invested in recruiting, the more players he landed; the more
players he landed, the more capital he had at his disposal.

Black told SI last July that he was content to remain in the
background. "I don't need to be on television," he said. "I
don't need to be on camera when the guy's talking about how
happy he is after signing his contract." But former associates
of Black paint a different picture. As his business expanded,
they say, so did his ego. Brantley Evans, a former PMI employee,
recalls the day first-round draft pick Hilliard appeared at his
first Giants minicamp, in May 1997. "Tank was sitting there,
giving interviews to the New York media," says Evans. "Tank said
it was like PMI had finally arrived."

Still, by the middle of 1997, there were fires that needed
extinguishing. BAOA's stock price had tumbled to less than a
nickel per share, and players such as San Diego Chargers running
back Natrone Means were approaching Black about making good on
his promise to refund their investment. Black also had a
falling-out with his protege, Evans. A former South Carolina
State center who competed in high school and college against
many future NFL players, Evans informed Black he was leaving to
start his own firm, Synergy Sports, and was taking a few PMI
clients, including Means. Black saw this as high treason and
retained James Franklin Jr., a University of South
Carolina-trained attorney and newly minted Harvard MBA
practicing law in Columbia, to represent him in a civil suit
against Evans. Though the case was eventually dismissed, Black
offered Franklin a job as PMI's in-house counsel. "That turned
out to be [Black's] downfall," says a source close to one of the
federal investigations. "Before Franklin, [Black's fraud] was
penny-ante stuff. But when Franklin's knowledge of loopholes
came into contact with Tank's ego, the results were disastrous."
(Franklin, who is named in both the SEC suit and the Florida
indictment, did not return multiple calls seeking comment.)

Franklin had been an associate with the white shoe McNair Law
Firm in Columbia. Among his clients had been Columbia
businessman Robert Ellenburg. Soon after Franklin started at PMI
in the fall of 1997, Ellenburg and another local businessman,
Jimmy Roof, came to him and Black with an investment
opportunity. The two men represented an Atlanta-based company
called Cash 4 Titles, which made loans to people who used their
car titles as collateral, and promised investors a 3% guaranteed
monthly return on their investment, an unheard-of 36% a year.
Despite their business backgrounds, Franklin and Black jumped in
headfirst, without a modicum of due diligence. As it turned out,
most of the money invested in Cash 4 Titles didn't go to the
company; it became part of a Ponzi scheme based in the Cayman
Islands that used funds from new investors to pay earlier ones.

According to the SEC suit, soon after investing a small amount
of their personal funds in Cash 4 Titles, Black and Franklin
told PMI's clients about the bonanza. But instead of advising
their clients of the 36% annual return, Black and Franklin
promised them 20% and skimmed the remaining 16% for themselves.
Unbeknownst to their clients, the suit contends, Black and
Franklin charged an additional $30,000 annual fee for managing
their Cash 4 Titles investments; Black and Franklin simply
deducted this sum from the players' PMI accounts. Within a few
months, PMI clients had sunk millions into Cash 4 Titles. In
most instances players had agreed to the investment, but in
others Black and Franklin had made the investment without
telling the players. (In one instance, the SEC suit alleges, PMI
gave the Patriots' Allen a document confirming a $100,000
investment in Cash 4 Titles when the money had actually been
wired to one of Black's accounts.)

At least two PMI clients, Carruth and Hilliard, liquidated
legitimate stock portfolios to invest in Cash 4 Titles. Another,
the Lions' Crowell, obtained a $600,000 loan secured by his
contract and put $500,000 of the money into Cash 4 Titles. Even
players' parents sent funds to Black to invest in it. "He said,
'I've got money in there,'" Anthony, the Florida mayor, told the
SEC. "Tank was such a successful businessperson that, in our
minds, if [he] would make such an investment, it would be a good
investment for us."

Prosecutors and SEC attorneys charge that with the windfall PMI
was reaping from Cash 4 Titles, Black was able to make good on
the promise to repay his clients' investment--albeit with no
interest--in BAOA. Alleges a federal investigator, "He needed to
keep his clients happy and make sure they didn't fire him, so he
used a new scam to pay off the old one."

By April 1998, according to the SEC lawsuit, Black and Franklin
sought to eliminate the middle men, Ellenburg and Roof, and
invest clients' money directly in Cash 4 Titles. The suit
contends that Black and Franklin wired money invested by PMI
clients from a series of phantom corporations in the Caymans to
Cash 4 Titles directors Michael Gause and Richard Homa, the
alleged masterminds of the Ponzi scheme. (Gause, Homa, Ellenburg
and Roof were indicted for fraud last October.) In total, the
SEC suit alleges, Black and Franklin skimmed nearly $5 million
from their clients' Cash 4 Titles investments. When the clients
began questioning why they weren't receiving a return on their
investments, Black and Franklin explained that the plump
interest payments had simply been rolled over. "[Black] kept
coming up with lame excuses [why the players weren't seeing the
money]," says Taylor. "One time he even blamed it on the
millennium bug."

Nevertheless, this exotic-sounding offshore venture became a
selling point for Black in his recruiting pitch. Though he was
never licensed as an investment adviser, Black was quick to
mention the opportunity in the Caymans, according to one former
PMI employee. "When Tank made his initial presentation to Vince
Carter, there was specific mention of offshore banking," says
Sam Oliver, who worked for Black before a falling-out and sat at
the Carter family's dining room table while Black stated the
case for PMI. "He promised he would put Vince in an investment
program guaranteed to return 29 percent tax-free. His words
were, 'We don't invest your money; all we do is track it.'"

As the money poured in from clients' fees as well as Cash 4
Titles, Black indulged in the cliched excess of new wealth. In
addition to owning a fleet of cars and a brick mansion wedged
between a lake and a golf course in an exclusive neighborhood
just outside Columbia, Black loved to lease Homa's private jet
on short notice--for $3,000 an hour--and fly friends and clients
to exotic locations. "The trips were always command performances
by Tank," says Mike Deehan, the pilot who usually flew Black in
the $10 million luxury Challenger. "He'd pick up the tab, and
everyone would have a great time. I think he got off on his

Federal investigators allege that Black also spent a stunning
amount of money on a paramour. Black is married, and he and his
wife, Charlotte, have two teenage children, yet the
investigators say he became smitten with Linda Danielle Granger,
an exotic dancer at an Atlanta strip club. They allege that
Black--who according to another source met Granger on a 1997
recruiting trip--lavished her with hundreds of thousands of
dollars in cash and gifts, including a condominium and an SUV.

At Black's March 2 detention hearing in Gainesville, he was
released on bond in part because his lawyers contended that
Charlotte, who suffers from lupus, needed her husband's
assistance. As a stipulation, assistant U.S. attorney Jerome
Sanford asked that Tank not be allowed contact with Granger.
After Sanford made his request, Charlotte, present in the
courtroom, mouthed to no one in particular, "Who's Danielle

Black did not spend all his money on jets, clothes and exotic
dancers. He used some of his wealth and influence to help civic
and charitable causes in his hometown, where he still has
staunch defenders. He enlisted clients and friends to compete in
a celebrity golf tournament last summer that raised thousands of
dollars for the South Carolina chapter of the Red Cross. In
early 1999, Black made a $300,000 contribution to Palmetto
Place, one of the largest children's emergency shelters in South
Carolina, for construction of a new facility to be named for his
grandmother. "We had a need, and Tank Black stepped up to the
plate," says Donna Doyle, the director of development for
Palmetto Place. "Because of him, we won't have to turn kids away."

It was Linda Wilson, authorities believe, who introduced Black
to higher-ups in a Detroit drug ring. "Linda's got a lot of
street in her," says a former PMI employee. Wilson's husband,
Johnny Smith, a known narcotics dealer and onetime manager for
professional boxer James Toney, was murdered in a 1989 drug hit.
Smith's son by another woman, John Bryant, was part of a
narcotics ring that distributed at least 220 pounds of cocaine
in the Detroit area. (Bryant was sentenced earlier this year to
nearly 20 years in prison for drug dealing.)

With Wilson serving as go-between, FBI and IRS sources claim,
Black began laundering drug proceeds for a 25% fee. The alleged
scheme was not that complex: Runners from Detroit would drive
the cash to Columbia, where Black would deposit it in a bank; he
would then wire the money to accounts in the Caymans for
laundering and eventually return it to the runners--minus his 25%.

On Feb. 7, 2000, Darryl McConnell, a member of Bryant's drug
ring who had been charged with conspiracy to launder money,
acceded to a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
As part of his agreement, he told assistant U.S. attorney Bruce
Judge that he had transported $30,000 from Detroit to Columbia,
where it had been laundered. When Judge asked McConnell to whom
he had given the money, McConnell responded, "Tank Black and
Linda [Wilson]." (Wilson, who is also named in the SEC and
criminal complaints, declined to comment to SI.)

At Black's detention hearing in Gainesville, FBI agent Jeffrey
Thornburg alleged that Black, Wilson and Franklin also helped
the drug dealers launder their money by investing it in Cash 4
Titles. In his interview with the FBI, Ellenburg said that on
three occasions, Black and Wilson gave him and Roof large sums
of cash to be invested in Cash 4 Titles--a total of between
$800,000 and $900,000 in small bills packaged in boxes and in
garbage bags. Asked about the origin of the cash, Thornburg
testified that he thought "it could lead back to drug activity
in Detroit."

There is also evidence that suggests Black and Wilson tried to
help Dean Parker, a member of the Detroit drug ring, flee the
country. On March 6, 1998, under terms of a deal he had made,
Parker, who was out on bond, was supposed to cooperate with the
government and record conversations with Bryant. Instead he
engaged police in a high-speed car chase through the streets of
Dearborn, Mich., that night. After eluding the officers, he was
declared a fugitive on March 9. Deehan, the pilot, told FBI and
IRS investigators under oath, as well as SI, that on April 2,
1998, he flew Black, Wilson, Parker, Parker's wife and their two
children from Columbia to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Deehan also said
that the Parkers brought enough luggage to fill the cargo
compartment of the Challenger aircraft.

Black's lawyers contend that he had no clue that Parker--who
remains at large--was a drug dealer. In fact, they claim, Black
knew Parker only by an alias, Darren Nichols, and thought he was
a friend of Wilson's. Yet federal investigators say that
documents seized from the PMI offices during a government raid
last September reveal references to payments from "Dean to LW,"
which investigators say refers to Dean Parker and Linda Wilson.

The case against Black began with a confidential tip about
another agent. In December 1998, Darren Baxley, an investigator
for the University of Florida Police Department, received
information that Gators defensive end Tim Beauchamp was
receiving $500 to $600 a month from a small-time agent. Baxley
investigated under a Florida statute that requires all agents to
register with the state and punishes them with as much as a
$5,000 fine and five years in prison for having contact with

When Baxley asked Beauchamp where he'd come up with the amount
for his monthly payout, the player shrugged and responded, "I
knew [Florida linebacker] Johnny Rutledge was getting $500 to
$600 a month from his agent, Tank Black. I wanted about the
same." Baxley tracked down a former PMI employee, who alleged
that Black had paid not only Rutledge but also Hilliard while
the latter played for the Gators from 1994 through '96.
(Hilliard declined to comment.) A review of Hilliard's
complimentary-ticket list revealed that Alfred Twitty, a runner
for Black, received tickets for 1996 Florida games against
Tennessee and Florida State as well as the 1997 Sugar Bowl. Thus
commenced an exercise in connecting the dots.

A month later, when Berthelsen, the NFLPA lawyer, held an
advisory meeting among agents at Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta,
several agents complained that the NFLPA had been derelict in
its duty to enforce rules against paying players. Berthelsen cut
them off. "We need your help," he said. "You always make these
claims without naming names." Ray Anderson, a veteran
Atlanta-based agent, stood up. "I'll give you a name," said
Anderson. "Tank Black."

Berthelsen and his minions launched an investigation centered
primarily on Black's recruiting at Florida. The investigation
initially focused on a $133,500 Mercedes S600V that Black
purchased for Kearse on Dec. 31, 1998, before Kearse's last
college game, the Orange Bowl. Though Kearse did not take legal
possession of the car until Jan. 4, 1999, after his eligibility
had expired, the purchase raised red flags. Within a few months
the NFLPA, relying largely on work done by Florida and Louisiana
authorities, had gathered testimony from several former
collegians confirming that Black had paid them as
undergraduates. Kearse and former Gators teammates Rutledge and
Reggie McGrew admitted in sworn affidavits that they had
accepted cash from Twitty or Black before their eligibility
expired. LSU assistant coach Michael Haywood told investigators
that Randall (Banks) Menard, another runner for Black, offered
him $30,000 to persuade defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to
sign with PMI. (The coach did not accept the money, and
McFarland didn't sign with PMI.) On May 19, 1999, the NFLPA
presented Black with a five-page complaint against him, charging
that he had engaged in improper conduct in recruiting and
representing players, and threatened him with a lifetime ban.

Black responded by claiming racism. He enlisted Jesse Jackson's
support (the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition issued a statement
questioning the NFLPA's procedures), persuaded the Florida
chapter of the NAACP to investigate the NFLPA's possible racial
bias and filed a defamation-of-character lawsuit in federal
court in Washington, D.C. "It would appear to me that we are
seeing the work of the angry white man syndrome," Black's
attorney in the NFLPA matter, Leonard Mungo, said at the time.
"Tank is setting records and beating these white [agents] at
their own game." It was an odd charge to level, given that
Anderson, the agent who fingered Black, is African-American, as
are the players who gave testimony implicating Black, as is Gene
Upshaw, the NFLPA's executive director.

Meanwhile, in the process of interviewing several of Black's
former clients, Baxley unearthed the apparent BAOA scam and
notified the SEC. At around the same time the SEC and the U.S.
Attorney's office in New York were investigating Cash 4 Titles
and discovering that it was one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in
U.S. history. According to SEC attorneys and federal
prosecutors, only a small percentage of the more than $300
million invested in Cash 4 Titles actually went to the company
for its intended purpose. The rest, SEC lawyers say, was
diverted to offshore accounts held by Gause and Homa, then moved
to legitimate American holding companies and finally transferred
back to the offshore accounts. Unbeknownst to Black and
Franklin, the fat "interest payments" they were receiving were
in fact principal contributed by later investors. "It was your
classic pyramid scheme," says one SEC official. When the scheme
collapsed last fall under its own weight--there were too many
new investors--most of the money invested was missing. Suddenly,
some $10 million of PMI's clients' investments had disappeared.
"The con men [Franklin and Black] were conned," says one FBI
agent working on the case.

Concurrently, and without knowledge of the SEC probe,
investigators from the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit were
investigating a major international drug and money-laundering
ring based in that city. They found that one of their leading
suspects, John Bryant, had deeded a hotel to a company, Tri-Star
Development, that listed its address as suite 200 at 914
Richland Street in Columbia--the same location as PMI's
headquarters. "Once there was trouble," says one investigator,
"Tank's empire started to crumble like a house of cards."

Though Black's savvy had taken him far in the agent world, some
of his alleged efforts at damage control were astonishingly
clumsy. After Black learned he was the subject of an SEC probe
last summer, he gave investigators what he contended were
exculpatory letters, proving he had warned his clients that he
was not licensed to handle their investments and thus had
breached no fiduciary duties. One such letter, obtained by SI,
was dated Nov. 19, 1996, and sent to Carruth, in care of the
Panthers. Problem was, Carruth was a senior at Colorado at the
time. Likewise, Black offered investigators another letter,
dated Sept. 9, 1996, and addressed to PMI client Rondell Jones,
in care of the Baltimore Ravens. Yet Jones, a safety, was
playing for the Denver Broncos at the time and didn't sign with
Baltimore until April '97. (Investigators allege that
information found on Black's computer hard drive, which was
seized in the September raid, confirmed that the letters had
been created in '99.)

By early March of this year, virtually every player in Black's
stable had terminated his contract and looked elsewhere for
representation. "[Black] kept saying, 'Don't believe what you
hear or read--they keep twisting the facts,'" says Michelle
Carter-Robinson, whose son finally broke with Black on March 2.
"But then it got to the point where Stevie Wonder could see what
was happening.

"Look, Tank is a very nice person. But somewhere along the line
he lost sight of the right way to do things and started looking
only at the bottom line. Vince was a victim, and I can't forgive
Tank for that."

With Black's trial dates looming, he faces the prospect of
extended jail time--up to 25 years if convicted of fraud and
money laundering on the Gainesville charges alone. Sources close
to the Michigan drug investigation say Wilson has been offered a
variety of deals to testify against Black but has yet to accede.
Black, who used to whisk clients and friends to the Caribbean in
a leased jet, cannot leave South Carolina without written
approval from a federal judge. His whereabouts are monitored by
an electronic bracelet, and he must be at home in Columbia by 10

Black is still receiving commissions from contracts and
endorsements he negotiated before the indictment, but many
former clients, including Carter, contend that his alleged fraud
excuses them from paying him in the future. While SEC sources
assert that some of the money Black took may still be
unaccounted for, his known assets have been frozen. The halted
construction on the addition to his Columbia mansion speaks to
his current financial state. "I think Tank's in denial as to
what he's really facing," says Mike Butler, who did marketing
work for Black. "He's a remarkably optimistic person, and he
thinks that somehow he's going to work through this and get back
to where he was. I'm just telling you, that's how he thinks."

But unlike Greeneville's Andrew Johnson, who returned to
politics after his disgraced presidency, Black seems unlikely to
make a comeback in the sports-agent world. "This case with one
individual has more violations of our regulations than all of
our previous cases combined," says the union's Berthelsen.

As for the former PMI clients, they're still coming to grips
with their financial losses. As a small consolation, most were
able to take a tax deduction for losses suffered on the Cash 4
Titles investment. In the faint hope that they can recover
damages, Hilliard and Taylor have retained a Miami attorney and
filed suit against Black, Homa and 10 other defendants.

Taylor, the player who took the biggest hit, vows to work hard
this summer, have the best season of his career and land a
"monster deal" that will dwarf his losses. He is aggressively
pursuing endorsements through a new agent and soliciting
opportunities to do card shows and autograph signings.

While there may be no direct causal relationship, Carruth
complained about his financial situation to friends in the weeks
leading up to the murder in December of his pregnant girlfriend,
with which he and three other men have been charged. As an
investigator in Charlotte told The Miami Herald, the $300,000
loss Carruth suffered through his dealings with Black "was like
putting a match to kindling."

The only silver lining in the Black case may be the lesson it
could offer to young, financially naive athletes inclined to pay
little attention to how their newly earned fortunes are
invested. "Tank Black has become a great way to dramatize the
problem to the players," says Anderson, who fingered Black at
the NFLPA meeting. "Anyone can talk the sweet talk." Adds
Taylor, "We live, we learn. Vince [Carter] and I could hold a
really good seminar on money and agents." Taylor may get his
chance: He has been invited to recount his painful experience to
NFL greenhorns at the league's annual rookie orientation program
this summer.

Of all the unanswered questions, one in particular bewilders
athletes and investigators alike: How could Black possibly have
expected to get away with all of it? The paper trail, the
fraudulent transactions involving a publicly traded stock, the
apparent labyrinth of lies--did Black really think he could talk
his way out? "Tank should have realized it would catch up to
him," says Taylor. Concurs Berthelsen, "You find yourself
asking, Is he stupid?"

Black certainly betrayed no shortage of hubris. Or, at times,
stupidity. But perhaps in the end, he recognized the
inevitability of getting caught and, nevertheless, decided there
was a Faustian bargain worth making. If it meant penetrating the
big time, perhaps like a modern-day Tom Ripley, Tank Black--the
smooth talker from tiny Greeneville, the NAIA star who felt as
if he belonged in Division I--preferred being a scheming
somebody to an upstanding nobody.

COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY EDMUND GUY Tangled Tale Black's clients included (clockwise, from bottom left) Carter, Allen, Taylor, Kearse and Carruth. COLOR PHOTO: PETER COSGROVE/AP [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: PAUL BATTAGLIA/AP [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [See caption above]TWO COLOR PHOTOS: AP [See caption above]B/W PHOTO: COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA Black, a former wideout, related well to players. COLOR PHOTO: DAVE OXFORD/AP Black joined Hilliard in greeting Giants coach Jim Fassel in July '97.COLOR PHOTO: GREGORY FOSTER Evans was Black's protege before a bitter split-up.COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA E Carter's mom felt Black truly cared about her son.COLOR PHOTO: CLAY MCLACHLAN Anderson says the Black case will wake up players.COLOR PHOTO Black says he never knew Parker was in a drug ring.COLOR PHOTO: ALAN CAMPBELL/THE GAINESVILLE SUN/AP At the bond hearing Tank got his freedom--and his wife got a shock.