Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How could this happen? That question swept through the offices of NFL teams last week after The Athletic broke the news that Amit Patel, 31, a former employee in the finance department of the Jacksonville Jaguars, allegedly stole more than $22 million from the team over a four-year period.

Patel was a mid-level employee who worked for the Jaguars from 2018-23. He allegedly created fraudulent charges on the club’s virtual credit card and then covered his tracks by sending falsified files to the team’s accounting department. According to a charging document, he used that money to buy vehicles, a condominium and a designer watch worth over $95,000. He also purchased cryptocurrency, splurged on luxury travel for himself and others and used the funds to keep a criminal defense lawyer on retainer. Patel’s attorney said that the vast majority of the $22 million he stole were gambling losses; Patel allegedly placed bets on football and daily fantasy sports with online gambling sites.

Patel is expected to plead guilty to multiple charges — wire fraud and an illegal monetary transaction — in a court appearance Thursday, his attorney, Alex King, said.

In a statement, the Jaguars said that the franchise engaged “experienced law and accounting firms to conduct a comprehensive independent review, which concluded that no other team employees were involved in or aware of his criminal activity.” That fact makes the question people around the league were asking last week even more salient: How was Patel, working alone, able to steal more than twice the amount quarterback Trevor Lawrence counts against the Jaguars’ salary cap?

The Athletic spoke to two people familiar with Patel’s work for the Jaguars as well as nine people who work or have worked in finance for NFL teams or other pro sports franchises. Patel was no mastermind, people who knew him said, but rather a guy in the right place at the right time. The Jaguars may be a franchise worth an estimated $4 billion (according to Forbes), but the team’s finance department was understaffed. And turnover in key positions and a switch to a new credit card system created an opening that Patel exploited. The people who knew him and others who work or have worked for NFL teams questioned why Jacksonville didn’t have better safeguards in place that would have made it more difficult for Patel to get away with what he did and for so long.

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