A former NFL first-round draft pick who served a federal prison sentence for wire fraud after being nabbed in an FBI sting was arrested Thursday in Petaluma on suspicion of stealing about $325,000 in cash by fraudulently taking out loans against the value of a home owned by his girlfriend’s parents, police said.
Former Oakland Raiders running back Michael Antwon Bennett, 37, of Petaluma was being held at the Sonoma County Jail on Thursday in lieu of $1 million bail on suspicion of grand theft, burglary, forgery and financial elder abuse, Petaluma Police Sgt. Ed Crosby said.
Crosby said that this type of refinancing scheme is common, but the amount of the loan in Bennett’s case was notably high.
“The amount of money is certainly unusual. We don’t see many that are quite that much,” Crosby said. “But we do see five-figure cases like this all the time.”
Bennett and his girlfriend were living in the Cabernet Court residence, a second home owned by her parents, Crosby said.
His girlfriend’s parents, who are both older than 65, discovered the fraud in September after they received documents about the loans in the mail, Crosby said.
They then found that a binder of financial and real estate documents was missing from a locked room where the couple had stored them. The lock had been tampered with, Crosby said.
The couple notified police. Crosby said detectives discovered Bennett forged the signatures of the couple as well as a local notary public on two loan applications totaling about $325,000 pertaining to the Cabernet Court home.
Bennett, who was on federal parole stemming from the 2012 federal wire fraud conviction in Florida, admitted to the crime when police interviewed and arrested him just before noon Thursday in downtown Petaluma, according to Crosby.
“He was cooperative and admitted to what he did,” the sergeant said.
Crosby said that the people committing this type of financial fraud are rarely strangers to the victims.
“You’re going to see larger amounts of money taken when you’re in a position of trust,” Crosby said.
In the Florida case, Bennett tried to obtain a $200,000 loan with forged documents from a financial services store in North Miami that was run by undercover FBI agents. The store offered to cash fake tax refund checks, charging large upfront fees, according to the FBI’s 2012 announcement about Bennett’s arrest.
Bennett was one of three NFL players arrested after doing business at that Miami store.
Bennett used a falsified bank statement that claimed he had $9 million in collateral for the loan, according to the FBI. He was arrested after returning several days later to collect a cashier’s check worth $150,000, the bureau said in a statement released at the time.
A federal judge sentenced Bennett to a 15-month prison term after he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
Bennett was the 27th overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft, selected by the Minnesota Vikings out of the University of Wisconsin. He was a Pro Bowl selection the following year and went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers. He finished his nine-year NFL career in 2010 with the Oakland Raiders.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.