Who is Edward DeBartolo Jr and what did he do?

Donald Trump pardons Super Bowl-winning 49ers owner 20 years after riverboat casino scandal rocked NFL

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 18 February 2020 18:54 GMT
San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo celebrates during a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park in 1990.
San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo celebrates during a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park in 1990. (Getty Images)

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Donald Trump has pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr, a real estate developer and longtime owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty to a corruption case in Louisiana and faced a sexual assault allegation in the 1990s that he settled out of court.

In 1998, he admitted that he had failed to report that Edwin Edwards, the notorious former governor of Louisiana, had allegedly extorted $400,000 from the then-owner of the 49ers in exchange for a license to operate a riverboat casino in the state.

The Hall of Famer avoided prison with his guilty plea but was forced to pay a $1m fine, serve two years of probation, and agree to testify against Mr Edwards and his son as federal authorities investigated the state's troubled gambling industry.

According to the FBI, Mr DeBartolo agreed to pay Mr Edwards in order to receive a coveted operating license from the state's gambling commission, which he received but then abandoned after a grand jury was summoned in a subsequent investigation.

Several years before he was embroiled in the Louisiana scheme, Mr DeBartolo was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at his home in Menlo Park. He settled the case out of court for a reported $200,000.

His scandals eclipsed his ownership of the 49ers at their zenith, with five Super Bowl championship rings to show for its transformative success over his two decades leading the team.

The son of a midwestern mall developer, the Ohio native bought the team in 1977 for nearly $12m, among the jewels of his family's empire.

In the early 1990s, as the DeBartolo Corporation struggled, Mr DeBartolo agreed to sell off the family-owned Pittsburg Penguins hockey team, as well as several family-owned malls.

He was a notorious high roller and big spender, frequently drawing the ire of the NFL for his fights on the sidelines and paying bonuses to players during a 1987 strike, for which he was fine $50,000 by the league's commissioner.

In 1990, he was hit with a $500,000 fine for transferring the team's ownership to a subsidiary of the family's company, violating the league's rules governing outside ownership.

His sister took control of the team in 2000 following the corruption case.

Despite rampant allegations of cronyism and crooked business dealings, Mr DeBartolo remains a revered figure within the 49ers organisation.

Former 49ers stars including Jerry Rice joined White House officials to mark the president's announcement on Tuesday.

"Eddie was like that 12th man that was on that football team", said Mr Rice, a three-time Super Bowl champion wide receiver. "You knew that this guy wanted us to win and he's the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls."

Mr DeBartolo also has contributed thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns and has maintained a friendly relationship with the president over the years.

In 2017, he hosted an inauguration party for Mr Trump with NFL legend Jim Brown.

On Tuesday, Mr Brown was among former NFL stars at the White House for the pardoning announcement.

He called Mr DeBartolo "a great man" and stands "100 per cent behind his humanity".

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