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on March 05, 2016 at 7:08 AM, updated March 07, 2016 at 7:59 AM
Reggie Rucker wanted to go unrecognized.
The former Cleveland Browns star turned disgraced community activist returned to one of the scenes of his crimes Friday morning. He walked into Cleveland's downtown casino.
Rucker had optimistically hoped that casual clothing and a ski cap would conceal his identity. He was also gambling that the early morning hour might allow him to pay a quick visit to the Horseshoe without raising eyebrows.
He was wrong.
It's challenging to remain anonymous when one is currently Cleveland's most famous swindler.
A familiar valet recognized him first. Then, small clusters of early morning gamblers began staring as he strolled through the gaming facility. Only the sight of Johnny Manziel walking into a downtown Cleveland bar would have attracted more concerned attention.
"The young valet will never know how much his look hurt me. He pitied me. He didn't realize I was more embarrassed than he was," Rucker told me in a phone call Friday afternoon.
Rucker wasn't there to gamble. He and his attorney visited the Horseshoe just before 10 a.m. to confront a demon that has wrecked Rucker's life and destroyed his reputation.
Rucker said he went to the casino to voluntarily undergo the process of permanently banning himself from entering the building again. He said he never again intends to step foot in a casino –- in Ohio or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. He said the ban he agreed to subjects him to arrest for criminal trespass if he ever enters an Ohio gaming facility.
Few people have betrayed Cleveland's trust in the manner that Rucker did. Why should anyone give a damn that Rucker has allegedly put himself in a permanent gambling timeout corner as he awaits a May sentencing?
That's a question worth considering even as Rucker gets his business affairs in order and counts down the days to learning the penalty he faces for his deception and theft. Last month, he pleaded guilty to embezzling money from nonprofit groups, including the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, a non-violence organization that he founded.
Federal prosecutors said that Rucker used the bank accounts and outside funding of the nonprofit as his personal ATM. He stole $100,000 or more to pay off gambling debts to casinos around the country. All the while, he consistently beseeched philanthropies around Greater Cleveland to help him pay his street outreach workers, who frequently went for months without getting paid.
That is why Rucker's fall from grace is so damning and painful. He broke bonds of trust with philanthropists and with young men who were often fighting for a second chance to be part of something meaningful.
The Peacemakers Alliance, mostly composed of former felons, was respected by local law enforcement officials and is credited with helping to keep tensions down after several recent police shootings.
"I've made awful mistakes that can't be undone. I've betrayed my mission, so many people and myself. I understand there is a price to be paid," Rucker told me.
"I have a gambling problem. It's addiction for which I have been seeking help. I will get through this. But this is my testimony.
"If I can help spare someone the pain and indignity I'm currently enduring, I hope they can learn from me.
"You can be at the top of the world and, if you're not careful, it can all be taken away."
Rucker will appear before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster on May 23rd, when he will learn his fate. In the meantime, March is recognized as problem gambling awareness month.
It is believed that two million U.S. adults meet the criteria for pathological gambling and another 4 million to 6 million are considered problem gamblers. According to National Council on Problem Gambling, many addicted gamblers "suffer" in silence because they don't understand the addiction. Those seeking help for themselves or others can consult ncpgambling.org or call 1-800-589-9966.Click here for source