ABOVE PHOTO: Mychal Kendricks
By Tom Withers and Claudia Lauer
Cleveland Browns linebacker Mychal Kendricks was released by the NFL team Wednesday night, hours after he was charged by federal prosecutors in Philadelphia with insider trading.
Kendricks, who signed a one-year contract with the Browns in June after winning a Super Bowl title last season with the Eagles, allegedly used tips from an acquaintance to make about $1.2 million in illegal profits on four major trading deals, federal prosecutors said.
The 27-year-old issued a statement earlier in the day admitting to his guilt and apologizing. He expressed regret and accepted “full responsibility” for his actions.
However, the Browns decided after learning more about the case that they couldn’t go forward with Kendricks, who was going to start for the team. The Browns issued a statement after traveling to Detroit for Thursday night’s exhibition finale against the Lions. Kendricks did not make the trip.
“Prior to signing Mychal, we were informed that there was a financial situation that he had been involved with in 2014,” Browns general manager John Dorsey said. “We were told Mychal had fully cooperated with investigators as a victim. From what was communicated at that time and based on the numerous questions we asked and further due diligence on our part, including checking with the league office, there was no information discovered that conveyed otherwise.
“Recently, we were provided an update on the matter and the circumstances have changed. We are now dealing with a different set of facts and the additional information we’ve gathered has led us to the decision to release Mychal from our team.”
Kendricks is facing possible prison time and further discipline from the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is reviewing the situation.
Prosecutors allege his co-defendant, Damilare Sonoiki, was paid $10,000 in kickbacks in the scheme from 2014-2015, as well as perks like tickets to Eagles games and tagging along to a music video shoot or nightclub appearances, said U.S. Attorney William McSwain.
Sonoiki had been working as a junior analyst at an unnamed investment bank in New York, prosecutors said. An IMDB profile lists him as a former writer on the popular TV series “Black-ish” as well as other movies and TV shows.
In a statement released by his lawyer, Kendricks said he was sorry and takes full responsibility for his actions.
“While I didn’t fully understand all of the details of the illegal trades, I knew it was wrong, and I wholeheartedly regret my actions,” he said in the statement. He also claimed he didn’t take any of the profits for himself but didn’t elaborate on where the money went. I am committed to repaying all of the funds gained illegally and accept the consequences of my actions.”
Kendricks said he has been cooperating with authorities since the investigation began.
McSwain along with representatives from the FBI and the Securities Exchange Commission— which filed a separate complaint — said Kendricks and Sonoiki used coded language in messages to try to hide their actions. McSwain said Sonoiki, who had limited trading powers at the time, would gave non-public information to Kendricks about acquisitions and other deals that would affect the price of securities for at least four different companies.
Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, said in one message when Sonoiki was asking for payment, he told Kendricks that he liked Philadelphia bread used in cheesesteaks more than the bread in New York and asked that Kendricks bring him some.
They also had a conversation pretending to be talking about changing the number on Kendricks’ jersey to 80, meant to signify the amount of money that should be deposited into a new trading account, she said.
If the men are convicted, they could face up to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $5.25 million as well as the seizure of any profits made from the insider trading.
The Browns signed Kendricks as a free agent, bringing him in to upgrade their linebacker corps following an 0-16 season. Kendricks spent six years with the Eagles, who drafted him in the second round in 2012 after he played at California.
The 5-foot-11, 240-pounder recorded a team-high eight tackles in last season’s NFC Championship against Minnesota and had four in Philadelphia’s Super Bowl win.