Chuck Blazer, Central Figure in FIFA Scandal, Dies at 72
Mr. Blazer was a gregarious American soccer official who pleaded guilty to a range of charges as part of a federal investigation.
Chuck Blazer, an American soccer official and bon vivant who was a central figure in the FIFA scandal that laid bare widespread corruption in international soccer, died at a New Jersey hospital on Wednesday. He was 72.
Mr. Blazer’s death was confirmed by his New York lawyer, Mary Mulligan. The cause was rectal cancer, which he had had for years.
Mr. Blazer was a large man with voracious appetites, not all of them in accordance with the law. On Nov. 25, 2013, as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into soccer-related improprieties that had started with his own failure to file a personal income tax return, he secretly pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal charges that included racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.
The investigation reached the highest levels of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, and became public in 2015 when surprise arrests were made in Switzerland, where FIFA has its headquarters and where authorities opened their own criminal investigation, now continuing. Mr. Blazer, a member of FIFA’s executive committee from 1997 to 2013, forfeited $1.9 million to the United States and cooperated with the authorities as a witness. His insider testimony assisted a far-reaching inquiry that ultimately touched several nations, predominantly in South and Central America.
The American case grew to include more than 40 defendants — individuals and corporations. About half have pleaded guilty to date, with some set to stand trial this year and more than a dozen indicted defendants remaining out of the reach of the American authorities.
Charles Gordon Blazer was born on April 26, 1945, in New York. A former soccer dad in Westchester County, N.Y., who became a worldwide power broker in the sport, Mr. Blazer wore a wild mane of hair and an unruly beard and could be gregarious, charismatic and eccentric. He became an executive vice president with the United States Soccer Federation in 1984, and in 1990 he was named the general secretary of Concacaf, the sport’s governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
He was said to have kept two apartments at Trump Tower in Manhattan, one for himself and the other mostly for his cats. Sometimes he carried a macaw on his shoulder.
He enjoyed expensive meals and luxurious travel and kept a blog, “Travels With Chuck Blazer and His Friends.” Photographs posted on it showed him dressed in a Santa outfit and posing with international figures, including a Miss Universe and Nelson Mandela. According to the blog, Vladimir V. Putin, then the Russian prime minister, told him in 2010, “You know, you look like Karl Marx!”
Mr. Blazer was so proficient at collecting commissions as a soccer official that he was given the nickname Mr. 10 Percent. But his activities strayed beyond the limits of legality. His failure to file personal income tax returns from 2005 to 2010 drew the attention of criminal investigators at the Internal Revenue Service and ultimately snowballed into the sprawling American case, a cooperative effort of the I.R.S., the F.B.I. and the Justice Department.
According to federal charges against him, Mr. Blazer profited from a number of moneymaking schemes, including the unauthorized sale of tickets to the World Cup, and received money smuggled in bulk and hidden in tax havens.
Mr. Blazer received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickback payments from a South American company that sought media and marketing rights to the Gold Cup, Concacaf’s regional tournament, according to the charges.
Mr. Blazer also received $750,000 in a vote-buying scheme from organizers of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, according to the charges.
From 1996 to 2011, Mr. Blazer received more than $20.6 million in commissions, fees and other payments from Concacaf, much of it with no oversight or authorization, according to a report by the body’s integrity committee.
In the fall of 2011, Mr. Blazer’s legal problems took a stark turn while he wheeled down Fifth Avenue on a motorized scooter, headed for a Manhattan restaurant. As described by The New York Daily News, Mr. Blazer was intercepted by an agent from the F.B.I. and another from the I.R.S. and was told, “We can take you away in handcuffs now, or you can cooperate.”
He decided to cooperate. In the summer of 2012, The Daily News reported, Mr. Blazer wore a key chain fitted with a microphone at the London Olympics and recorded conversations with international soccer officials.
Mr. Blazer was never sentenced for his crimes as his accused co-conspirators were fighting charges and set to stand trial. But on July 9, 2015, FIFA barred him from soccer-related activities for life.
Ms. Mulligan, Mr. Blazer’s lawyer, said Wednesday that her client had hoped his yearslong cooperation with authorities would bring “transparency, accountability and fair play” to the sport, whose longstanding leadership — his friends and former colleagues — he helped upend through his confession and conviction.
“Chuck felt profound sorrow and regret for his actions,” Ms. Mulligan said in a statement. “Chuck also accepted responsibility for his own conduct by pleading guilty and owning up to his mistakes.”
Mr. Blazer is survived by his ex-wife, Susan Blazer; their two adult children; and multiple grandchildren.