Chuck Blazer, Soccer Pioneer Turned Government Informant, Is Dead

chuck blazer

By BRIAN TRUSDELL

Chuck Blazer, who rose from suburban soccer dad to become the most powerful American in international soccer – only to end his reign pleading guilty to corruption and being the key witness that engulfed the sport, died Wednesday night after a long illness. He was 72.

Lawyers for the native New Yorker, who had been in hospice care for several months in New Jersey, made the announcement Wednesday night. Although the statement gave no cause of death, Blazer revealed at a court hearing in 2013 – where he pleaded guilty to 10 federal charges including tax evasion, accepting bribes and kickbacks — that he was being treated for rectal cancer, diabetes and coronary artery disease.

He was receiving dialysis treatments three times a week as of last November.

As of Thursday morning, neither CONCACAF, FIFA, nor the U.S. Soccer Federation had posted news of Blazer’s death on their websites.

The only comment was from U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena via the federation’s Twitter account: “I’m sorry for the passing of Chuck Blazer. I know his family and I pass along my condolences to them.”

Blazer, who ran a business that mostly made political campaign buttons and claimed to have invented the “smiley face” button, began his soccer career as the youth coach of his son Jason’s soccer team in New Rochelle, N.Y., in the mid-1970s although having never played the game.

He rose to prominence in the Eastern New York State Soccer Association and in 1984 was elected to the position of vice president in the U.S. Soccer Federation, where he was in charge of international competition. In 1988, FIFA selected the United States as host of the 1994 World Cup.

By 1989, he convinced Jack Warner to run for the CONCACAF presidency, and by consolidating the Caribbean nations’ votes, the formerly little-known president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association was elected the next year. Their meeting to plot strategy came in Trinidad on the same weekend that the United States defeated Trinidad, 1-0, to qualify for its first World Cup in 40 years.

Blazer was appointed secretary general and despite inheriting a largely moribund organization with little money, launched the Gold Cup in 1991, the confederation’s biennial nations championship that eventually generated tens of millions of dollars.

By 1997, Blazer had moved the confederation’s headquarters into Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and had been elected to one of CONCACAF’s three seats on FIFA’s ruling executive committee.

Praised for his business acumen that saw soccer rise in prominence throughout the region and in particular the United States, Blazer was appointed as head of FIFA’s television and marketing committee.

His elevated stature in soccer circles coincided with a growing lifestyle, including an apartment at Trump Tower and a girth that reached morbidly obese proportions. He had a glass aviary installed in his CONCACAF office for his macaw, Max, and two other exotic birds complete with a flat-screen television. He would often be seen riding down Fifth Avenue on a three-wheeled scooter with Max astride the handlebars.

He chronicled his life on a blog he called “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends” – including photos of himself with various celebrities from the sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer to South African President Nelson Mandela.

But rumors and reports of shady practices by Warner and Blazer – along with other FIFA and international soccer officials – were constant throughout the decade and they culminated in May 2011, weeks before the FIFA presidential election.

At a meeting in Trinidad hosted by Warner, Caribbean soccer officials were given $40,000 each in brown wrapping paper, provided by the FIFA presidential candidate Mohammed Bin Hammam of Qatar. Bahamas Secretary General Fred Lunn photographed the money, alerted his federation president, Anton Sealey, who forwarded the information on to Blazer.

Blazer alerted FIFA and, in the aftermath, Blazer was forced to resign and leave his post as CONCACAF secretary general by the end of the year. He remained on the FIFA executive committee, however, until 2013.

By December 2011, U.S. federal law enforcement officials approached Blazer on the street outside Trump Tower and presented him with their evidence of his tax evasion and wire fraud, including Caribbean bank accounts and other malfeasance. He became a government informant, carrying a key fob that was actually a microphone.

CONCACAF accused Blazer of misusing confederation funds to pay for his Trump Tower apartment, residences in Miami where the organization had a satellite office, vacation homes in the Caribbean and a H2 Hummer.

Blazer’s assistance fueled a federal investigation that has resulted in the indictment of 40 soccer officials, including the convictions of a dozen.

The scandal led to the separate investigations in at least five countries, the resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the restructuring of both FIFA and CONCACAF.