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(Reuters) - A former National Basketball Association player famed for delivering a devastating punch during a 1977 on-court fight has been arrested and charged with fraud in conspiracy with a National Football League Hall of Famer, U.S. prosecutors said on Wednesday.
A grand jury indictment alleges retired basketball player Kermit Washington, 64, defrauded donors, eBay, PayPal and the Internal Revenue Service for nearly three years by persuading people, including former professional athletes, to make donations to Project Contact Africa, a charity he had founded.
Ron Mix, a professional football Hall of Famer who played most of his career with the San Diego Chargers, pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of filing a false tax return in connection with the case, prosecutors said in a statement.
"Washington profited by diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations that was supposed to benefit a clinic in Africa for needy families and children, but instead bankrolled his own personal spending," Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a statement.
An attorney for Washington, who was arrested on Tuesday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors say Washington was paid by Mix to refer professional athletes to his law firm.
Mix then filed workers' compensation claims on behalf of the athletes and, in exchange, made payments to Project Contact Africa and falsely claimed those amounts as charitable deductions on his personal tax returns, the statement said.
Mix faces up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Washington, then playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, became widely known for delivering a face-smashing punch to Houston Rockets player Rudy Tomjanovich, after Tomjanovich had charged Washington from behind. Fallout from the punch followed Washington as he went on to play for the Boston Celtics, San Diego Clippers, Portland Trailblazers and Golden State Warriors.
Washington is charged with corruptly interfering with internal revenue laws, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obstruction of justice and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, he faces up to 45 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count.
Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis