Guilty plea in $7.5 million Miami Heat fraud

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A man who portrayed himself as a member of a wealthy Pakistani family and was often seen driving luxury cars including a Ferrari pleaded guilty Thursday to a multimillion-dollar investment scam involving three former Miami Heat players and the team itself.

The government alleges that Haider Zafar defrauded players Mike Miller, James Jones and Rashard Lewis in 2013 by promising to invest millions in various business opportunities. He also received a $1 million, three-season Heat ticket package he never paid for, according to the government.

Zafar pleaded guilty in federal court in Columbus to five wire fraud charges that each carry maximum 20-year prison sentences. That case was consolidated with another against Zafar in Columbus, where the defendant previously pleaded guilty to swindling a Washington, D.C. businessman out of $10 million between 2008 and 2010.

Zafar, currently in Franklin County Jail, pleaded guilty to the Miami Heat allegations to accept responsibility and move forward with his life, his attorney, Sam Shamanksy, said Thursday.

Testimony by an FBI agent Thursday portrayed Zafar as a man who talked big as he persuaded the Heat players to give him millions of dollars for investments that never materialized.

Zafar boasted of $35 million in a Swiss bank account and luxury residences in New York City and Miami and was often seen being chauffeured in a yellow Ferrari, a white Bentley and a black Escalade, said FBI agent David Fine.

Zafar persuaded the Miami Heat's vice president of sales to sell him a premium three-season ticket package for $1 million after explaining about his "family history and influence," including ownership of hotels, companies and other business ventures, Fine said.

Zafar convinced Miller to give him $2.6 million, Lewis to give him $4 million and Jones to give him $1.5 million, all for an investment opportunity that Zafar said would "quickly obtain a significant return." But rather than reimburse the Miami Heat or three individuals, Zafar used the money "for his personal use and benefit," Fine said.

Although the government has previously called this a $7.5 million fraud case, assistant federal prosecutor Dale Williams on Thursday referred to an overall loss of $3.5 million.

Explaining the discrepancy, Shamansky said that Zafar returned "substantial sums" to the Heat players.

Williams, without offering details, said Zafar was not who he portrayed himself to be.

Sentencing in the case involving the Washington businessman is set for November but it's likely it will be delayed and sentencing in both cases will happen later.

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