DALLAS (AP) — With several ex-Cowboys sitting in the courtroom gallery, a federal judge on Wednesday sentenced former linebacker Eugene Lockhart Jr. to 4½ years in prison for his admitted role in using fraudulent mortgage papers to swindle home lenders out of millions and potential home buyers out of their credit.
Lockhart pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Nine others indicted have already been sentenced.
U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis listened to pleas from Hall of Famer Randy White and fellow ex-Cowboy Kevin Smith, but in the end, Lockhart's fame from his playing days appeared to hurt more than help. Solis pointed out that he had heard from several victims who were taken in by Lockhart businesses named after the Cowboys and "America's Team." Some victims had their lives ruined, he said.
"You can deny it all you want to, but I heard the testimony," the judge added.
Lockhart admitted to being part of an effort to use fraudulent loan paperwork to deceive mortgage lenders while buying homes in the Dallas area. Prosecutors say some of Lockhart's co-defendants recruited potential home buyers with bonuses and promises of help with their mortgage payments.
Solis sentenced Lockhart before a courtroom packed with family members, friends and ex-Cowboys, including White and team legends Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Drew Pearson.
White and others spoke in support of Lockhart and described him as a warm and generous but not a good businessman. White said he had known Lockhart for three decades. Several people in the audience laughed when he talked about their days playing for famed Cowboys ex-coach Tom Landry.
Solis did not. He stared silently at White without any reaction.
Later, as he sentenced Lockhart, Solis brought up the victims he had heard testify earlier.
"Mr. Lockhart, because of his name, was able to bring in clients" who were then misled, Solis said. He added about Wednesday's audience, "Of course, these folks don't know that."
Lockhart was drafted by the Cowboys in 1984 and played seven seasons for the team, earning the nickname "Mean Gene" for his physical play. After his playing career ended, Lockhart sometimes wouldn't show up for work until the early afternoon, said John Villarreal, a friend and former business partner.
"He is a football player," Villarreal said. "That's what he likes to do, and did very well."
Lockhart's attorney, Jay Ethington, called his client a "figurehead" whose name was misused by smarter people. And Lockhart himself apologized, saying he had stepped into a game in which he didn't understand all the rules — and then didn't speak up when he saw wrongdoing.
"It looked good, the money looked good, and I fell into it," Lockhart said.
Prosecutor David Jarvis called on Solis not to give Lockhart a "special break" due to his playing days.
"Borrower after borrower after borrower, their credit was ruined," Jarvis said.
Ethington argued that his client had severe health problems and could not remember all the details about the scheme for authorities due to seven concussions suffered during his playing days. But Solis dismissed that claim.
"I'm not convinced, frankly," Solis said.
Ethington — who had asked for Solis to consider home confinement so Lockhart could get more medical treatment — said after court that he thought Lockhart's fame hurt the case.
"He had this celebrity status that really shouldn't enter into it," Ethington said.
Lockhart declined to comment after the hearing. Solis ordered him to report to prison Jan. 16.