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The NFL on Friday asked a federal judge to appoint a special investigator to stop what the NFL called "widespread fraud" by former players through illegitimate medical claims in the $1-billion concussion settlement.
The NFL says the court-appointed claims administrator, charged with the processing of each former football player's medical claim, has denied nearly a quarter of the players' filings in the settlement's first year because of "red flags or other signs of potential fraud."
"We want to ensure that players and their families receive the benefits they deserve," NFL attorney Brad Karp said. "Fraud threatens the integrity of the settlement and the prompt payment of legitimate claims. There is significant evidence of fraudulent claims being advanced by unscrupulous doctors, lawyers and even players."
Christopher Seeger, who is the attorney responsible for representing the entire group of 20,000 former players, said in a statement that he supports the NFL's request for a special investigator to fight fraud.
"We have previously expressed concerns about potentially fraudulent claims and agree the appointment of a special investigator is appropriate," Seeger said. "However, we will not allow this small number of claims to be used as an excuse by the NFL to deny payment to legitimately injured former players. Unlike other NFL benefits programs, this settlement is overseen by the court, and the league cannot escape its responsibility. We will make sure that former NFL players and their families receive every benefit they are entitled to under this agreement."
The NFL's motion, filed Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, cited examples of fraud such as a law firm that the league says "coached retired players on how to answer questions during their neuropsychological evaluations" and another firm that charged players a fee based on their diagnosis.
The concussion settlement, reached with players in 2015 and completed last year, offers monetary payments to former players who suffer from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS or dementia. The families of players who are found to have CTE in their brains after death also can receive money.
The NFL says some former players - whom they did not name in the 24-page filing - are "willing participants" in fraud.
In one example, the NFL says a 31-year-old former player submitted a claim for dementia, reporting short-term memory problems and difficulty helping his son with homework. But, according to the NFL, "He did not disclose, however, that he was attending graduate school and received an MBA degree in 2017 in the same month as his evaluation."
Seeger, meanwhile, is facing a rebellion of unhappy players and attorneys who believe he is not fighting hard enough on their behalf against the NFL's appeals and audits.
One firm that represents more than 1,100 players recently asked a judge to give them the same "rights and duties" as Seeger to argue on behalf of players.
The judge has not yet ruled on that request. The NFL, however, filed a second motion Friday saying it opposes the insurgent effort to unseat Seeger as the players' attorney. The league, instead, says fraudulent behavior by players and attorneys is the reason why players with legitimate claims have experienced a lag getting paid.
"The overwhelming number of questionable claims that require investigation for potential fraud by doctors, lawyers and certain players that bears responsibility for that delay," the league said in court papers.
As of Monday, former football players have been awarded $411 million in approved claims, according to the settlement's website. However, of that figure, only $172 million has been paid; the rest either are audited or going through processing.
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