The Trinidad and Tobago jail in which Jack Warner woke up Thursday morning stands in stark contrast to the lifestyle enjoyed by the man who ultimately rose to become one of the most powerful men in soccer, or football as the sport is more commonly referred to globally. The opposition member of the country’s parliament and one-time national security minister for the island nation who also happens to be a former official for the international governing body of football was facing a sobering moment: He was one of 14 people indicted Wednesday for their roles in alleged elaborate decades-long money racketeering and bribery schemes that netted its participants an estimated $150 million.
Allegations of various forms of corruption have dogged Warner, 72, for nearly two decades, including claims of him soliciting $10 million in bribes from the South African government to host the 2010 World Cup, but to truly understand who the man is, a closer look at his past is necessary.
Cricket may be Trinidad and Tobago’s official national sport, but soccer has always been Warner’s favorite. So much so that in 1989 he printed and sold an extra 5,000 tickets for a soccer match in which the national team was trying to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, the Washington Post reported. While he admitted culpability for the digression, he emerged unscathed – courtesy of his crony, Chuck Blazer, then vice president of the U.S. Soccer federation -- and soon after become the president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF.
That same year he would be appointed as a special advisor to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation before becoming vice president of Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, in 1997. It seemed Warner was destined to become a powerful player the world of international soccer. But the lofty success he enjoyed as an executive was apparently not enough.
The taste of obtaining funds illegitimately in the name of soccer was allegedly too much for his palate to resist, as he in 2002 and 2006 again initiated ticket scams in which he sold thousands of World Cup tickets on the black market, generating an estimated profit of more than $1 million, according to the Daily Mail.
The fortune Warner was amassing went in part to help found multiple companies, including Jamad Maintenance Services Ltd., which was eventually implicated in a 2003 tax evasion scheme, the Trinidad Express reported. He also used his wealth to pay $16 million for a modern soccer facility in Trinidad. Most recently, Warner last month launched an online television channel, continuing his foray into media that began with his weekly tabloid, the Sunshine newspaper, according to local news outlet Loop TT.
Warner didn’t just accept bribes, he offered them, too, according to the Telegraph. In May 2011, he was caught on video offering “gifts” of up to $40,000 to FIFA officials in return for their support of Bin Hammam, a former FIFA executive from Qatar who was running for the organization’s presidency before he was found guilty of these very same allegations. Hammam would eventually be banned for life from organized soccer. Qatar ultimately won the bid to host for the 2022 World Cup.
Just two months later, Warner would resign from FIFA’s vice presidency after first being suspended over the bribery allegations. In return, FIFA ended its formal investigation into the claims.
It was unclear just how much Warner’s net worth was, but if the financial activities of his one-time cohort Blazer was any indication – Blazer once amassed $29 million in credit card charges, including for a New York City apartment in Trump Tower that housed his cats, according to the Daily News – Warner made at least tens of millions of dollars during his reign over the soccer world.
In the end, it would be the wiretap worn by Blazer, described by the U.S. Department of Justice as “the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF and former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee,” that would prove to be the final straw in Warner’s demise. In 2013, Blazer pleaded guilty to a host of criminal charges, including but not limited to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. As part of his deal with federal authorities, Blazer named Warner as a co-conspirator, resulting in Warner’s ultimate arrest Wednesday. Warner’s two sons, who were heavily involved in their father’s illegal activities, also pleaded guilty in 2013 and were cooperating with law enforcement.
Before his arrest Wednesday, Warner released a video maintaining his innocence, echoing a common refrain heard from him throughout his international soccer tenure. “Whatever is planned for me, negatively, shall not succeed,” Warner said, the opposite of what the Justice Department announced after the indictments.
“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough,” Acting U.S. Attorney Currie said.