Charges against eight current, former Rutgers football players referred to grand jury.
The status of four Rutgers football players suspended due to charges related to an alleged credit card fraud scheme remains unresolved after a brief, but somewhat heated, hearing Thursday in Middlesex County Superior Court.
Judge Michael Toto referred the charges against the eight current and former players to a grand jury, but said some or all may be able to settle their legal matters before the jury meets. No jury date was set.
All eight current or former players – Brendan DeVera, Malik Vaccaro-Dixon, Kai “K.J.” Gray, Naijee Jones, Edwin Lopez, Kwabena “Kobe” Marfo, Syhiem Simmons and Christian “C.J.” Onyechi – were present at the hearing. The eight are accused of stealing credit card numbers and transferring funds from various Rutgers University Express accounts for their own personal use, according to Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey.
Dixon, Jones, Marfo and Onyechi remain enrolled at Rutgers and unable to participate in any football activities. Head coach Chris Ash has said no decision will be made on their futures with the program until their legal matters are settled. The other four players have either been dismissed by Ash or have been granted scholarship releases and are no longer with the team.
Toto’s motion came after several of the players’ attorneys protested how the prosecutor’s office has not turned over any discovery to date and has been delayed in its handling of the case, in which the alleged crimes were said to have been committed in April and May and the players were charged in August.
“The only discovery I have, and I want to put this on the record, is there must be a direct line between the Rutgers police and The Star-Ledger, because I know more about this case from what I’ve read in The Star-Ledger,” attorney George Hendricks, who represents suspended player Christian “C.J.” Onyechi, stated for the record, adding the case is “languishing” in the prosecutor’s office, a sentiment echoed by several other attorneys present.
Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes took umbrage, saying Rutgers police is “an arm of the prosecutor” and “we don’t play like that.” Barnes told Toto no discovery has been presented to the defendents because there is still more to come.
“Each of these young men is entitled to all the discovery,” Barnes said. “Additional investigation is to their benefit as much as it is to the state’s.”
The attorneys present indicated to Toto most, if not all, of the players have applied for pre-trial intervention or would do so after the hearing. Hendricks told the judge the PTI applications cannot be reviewed until there is discovery, but Barnes argued that makes no difference since the prosecutor’s office facilitates the PTI program. Toto said the defendants could resolve their case before a grand jury if they are accepted into that program or accept a plea deal offered by the prosecutor’s office, although no such offers have been made yet to the eight players.
DeVera and Gray, who are each facing the most serious charges in the alleged scheme said to have resulted in a theft of more than $11,000, were dismissed from the Rutgers football team in July. The other six were suspended indefinitely from the program by Ash shortly after, and the players were formally charged by Carey in August.
Lopez and Simmons were granted scholarship releases after they were suspended, but before charges came down. DeVera and Lopez have since enrolled at junior colleges where they have continued their playing careers. DeVera is at ASA College in Brooklyn, while Lopez is at Garden City Community College in Kansas.
Gray’s attorney, John Shiffman, told Toto that while he has been hired to represent Gray in his legal matters, he wanted to put in the court record that Rutgers has withheld Gray’s transcript, even though he was dismissed from the team and expelled from the university.
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