|Ex-con pleads guilty to fraud in alleged shakedown of athlete|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 24 April 2007 05:29|
ST. LOUIS (AP) - An Illinois ex-con accused of trying to extort $150,000 from a former St. Louis Cardinal after claiming the player impregnated the man's daughter has pleaded guilty to a federal fraud count, ensuring the athlete won't have to testify.|
George Edwards, 48, of the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill., pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to wire fraud in the extortion case.
A person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is pending, told The Associated Press the target of the extortion was former Cardinal second baseman Ronnie Belliard, a married father of two children who now plays for the Washington Nationals.
Edwards' target has not been identified by name by attorneys or in court papers, which describe the athlete only as ``the victim'' or ``John Doe.''
In exchange for the plea, court records show, prosecutors will drop a felony extortion count when the jobless Edwards is sentenced July 6. He remains jailed without bond as a flight risk and public danger.
Messages left Tuesday with Edwards' public defender, Kevin Curran, were not immediately returned, and the case's federal prosecutor, Tom Albus, declined to comment Tuesday.
Edwards' deal has been anticipated since late last month, when he waived what was to have been a hearing challenging the evidence, including FBI-recorded telephone talks he had with the athlete's agents.
Prosecutors argued Edwards sought $150,000 from the athlete in exchange for keeping quiet about the athlete supposedly impregnating Edwards' daughter after the pair met last fall at a local nightclub.
According to the indictment, Edwards told the athlete's agents during a telephone call that a paternity test proved the athlete impregnated the daughter, then lied when he said certain health-care providers had tended to his daughter before an eventual miscarriage.
Even after the supposed miscarriage, according to the indictment, Edwards said he and his daughter still wanted to be paid to keep them from telling the media.
Authorities said the scheme unraveled when the athlete's agents reported the matter to investigators, including the FBI, who secretly taped four conversations between Edwards and the athlete's agents.
Edwards' daughter has not been charged.
Belliard, 32, last season hit a combined .272 with 30 doubles, 13 homers and 67 RBIs with Cleveland and St. Louis, for whom he started at second base in last year's World Series.
In 18 games this season with the Nationals, Belliard is hitting .268. with 19 hits and 13 strikeouts in 71 at-bats.
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.
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