KANSAS CITY — Former NBA star Kermit Washington has pleaded guilty to pocketing close to $250,000 meant to help needy people in Africa as part of a broad charity scam.
Washington, 66, played 11 seasons in the NBA but is most famous for landing a roundhouse punch on Houston Rockets great Rudy Tomjanovich in a 1977 brawl that shattered his face and ended his playing career.
He admitted that he used money earmarked for his charity, Project Contact Africa, to pay for his own expenses and pleaded guilty to charges of identity theft and filing phony tax returns. He faces up to eight years in federal prison.
The case against Washington was closely connected to separate fraud investigations involving NFL Hall of Famer Ron Mix and a man who pleaded guilty to running one of the biggest software piracy cases ever prosecuted in the U.S.
Mix, 79, who became a worker’s compensation attorney after his playing days, was accused of funneling money into Washington’s charity as kickback payments for athlete clients the retired hoopster had steered his way. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to falsely claiming the payments as charitable donations on his tax return.
Washington also took money from Reza Davachi, 43, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to selling over $100 million in pirated software. He admitted using the Project Contact Africa Paypal account to process payments, avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees as the transactions were considered charitable donations.
A 6-foot-8 power forward, Washington averaged 9.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game during his career during which he mostly played for the Los Angeles Lakers but also had stints with the Celtics, the Clippers, the Trailblazers and the Warriors.
But he never lived down the infamy of delivering the 1977 on-court punch that ended Tomjanovich’s playing days.
Tomjanovich, 69, went on to coach the Houston Rockets for 13 seasons from 1991-2003, winning two championships.