CHICAGO -- Former Chicago Bear Roland Harper was sentenced to a year of house arrest Tuesday for acting as a front man in a $1.5 million fraud involving a landscaping contract for Chicago public schools.
U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah also required the 56-year-old former fullback to perform 200 hours of community service and pay $25,000 in restitution and forfeit $50,000. He'll also serve two years of probation, including the year he is confined to his home.
Harper, who was in the same backfield with Walter Payton, pleaded guilty last year to mail fraud. Defense attorney Patrick J. Cotter said Harper is now broke and faces an array of civil lawsuits stemming from the failure of a trucking business he had owned.
"Roland Harper may have been a great football player but he is a terrible businessman," Cotter said.
Harper, who is black, was hoping to learn the landscaping business but soon found himself the front man in a plot by a white landscaper to get a contract set aside for a minority firm, Cotter said. Harper went into the contract with honest intentions, his attorney said.
Landscaper Aiden Monahan was sentenced in April to three years and five months in prison after pleading guilty as the mastermind of the fraud.
Prosecutors said Monahan owned the equipment and the workers used on the contract and that Harper would go to the office about twice a week, say hello to employees, meet briefly with Monahan and leave. He received only about $80,000 of the $1.5 million in contract money.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Miller said Harper immediately cooperated with prosecutors after they confronted him, but that contract fraud is a serious problem in Chicago and he needed to be punished.
Prosecutors asked Darrah to sentence Harper to 16 months -- below the federal guideline range and as such a reward for helping prosecutors convict Monahan.
"This city is fraught with corruption," Darrah said, adding that Harper's cooperation could be an example to others who know about federal crimes.
Harper apologized to the court and the city.
"I'm sorry that so many people who look up to me I've let down," he said.
As he left the courthouse, Harper told reporters that he had been caught up in "unfortunate circumstances."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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