Former Buckeye Schlichter suspect in probe Money for tickets went to gambling, sources say

Saturday, February 5, 2011  02:51 AM
By Mike Wagner

Art Schlichter led Ohio State to an undefeated regular season in 1979 before losing in the Rose Bowl.

Former Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter, already known as one of the nation’s most-notorious compulsive gamblers, is the target of an investigation by local and federal authorities centering on a sports-ticket scheme that has swindled numerous people out of several million dollars, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Sources said Schlichter began soliciting people for money as part of an “investment opportunity” involving brokering and selling tickets for Ohio State football games and other prominent sporting events to various people about two years ago.

The money collected by Schlichter was being used to gamble and make large bets that two sources close to the investigation say exceeded six figures in some cases.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien sent an e-mail to The Dispatch saying he was unable to confirm, deny or discuss anything involving Schlichter.

Schlichter would confirm only that he plans to speak with authorities in the near future.

“It will help a lot of people,” Schlichter said in a text message about talking with authorities. “This addiction is a (expletive).”

Since 1994, Schlichter has served time in 44 prisons or jails, mainly for fraud and forgery for having swindled people out of money or writing bad checks to feed his addiction to gambling on sports and horse races. Those close to him estimate that Schlichter has flushed away millions while gambling.

Schlichter, now 50, was an All-America quarterback at Ohio State more than 30 years ago.

At the heart of the scheme is a friendship Schlichter forged with Anita Barney, the 68-year-old widow of former Wendy’s CEO and chairman Robert Barney, who died in 2007 at age 70.

It is unknown how Schlichter met Barney since his release from prison and rehab in 2006, but the two made a connection when Schlichter was still starring for the Buckeyes at quarterback.

In August 1980, her son Alan Valko was the lone survivor of a Michigan plane crash that killed four men, including her former husband Dr. Albert Valko. The 10-year-old boy was injured when the twin-engine plane crashed in a wooded area near Tawas City, Mich. The boy sustained a fractured leg and other injuries. He was transported back to Columbus, where he spent several weeks in a hospital. It was there that Schlichter visited and befriended the boy, a huge Buckeyes fan.

Anita Barney, still grateful for the encouragement Schlichter provided her son, was befriended by Schlichter in the recent past.

Schlichter persuaded Barney to invest money in his ticket operation, the sources said. She continued to provide Schlichter with money, believing that the business was legitimate and that the ex-con would somehow come through on his promises of making a profit from ticket sales. As Barney’s personal assets were being drained, she turned to friends and associates for help, the sources said.

Several lawsuits filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in the past two months indicate that Barney solicited money from others. The borrowed amounts ranged from $29,000 to more than $200,000, according to lawsuits. It’s unknown whether Barney mentioned Schlichter’s involvement when she was asking others for money.

When contacted by The Dispatch, Barney, who lives in Dublin, said she wanted to tell her story, but she is being advised by her Columbus attorney, Bill Loveland, not to comment at this time.

“There is much to tell, but it’s just not the right time,” said Barney, whose voice was trembling.

The big payoff in the ticket-selling operation supposedly was to come around the Super Bowl, when Schlichter was going to sell dozens of the prized tickets for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Schlichter wasn’t able to deliver the Super Bowl tickets, sources said, and some people who were promised tickets have been left in the Dallas area without any way into the game.

In recent years, Schlichter had started to repair some parts of his life and was paying back creditors and others to whom he owed money because of his checkered past. About two years ago, he received free help from local attorney Brett Adams, who has represented several high-profile athletes and coaches.

“I didn’t want to lose my credibility by helping him, but I was trying to help him reclaim a clean life,” Adams said. “I told him if he lied to me or deceived me in any way, I wasn’t going to help him anymore.”

Adams discovered that Schlichter did just that, and he formally resigned as his attorney about six weeks ago. He encouraged Schlichter to come forward and speak to the authorities.

“Once I suspected he was engaged in this activity, I could no longer help him,” he said. “There is no justification for his behavior if any of these allegations have merit. But I have represented many athletes with addiction, and I am convinced this disease is incurable. It can be lessened, but it is certainly incurable.”

Schlichter was released early from an Indiana prison in June 2006, then spent four months at a gambling treatment center in Baltimore. He moved back to near Washington Court House, about 40 miles southwest of Columbus, to live with his mother in a house close to what once was their family farm. In the past four years, he has spent considerable time in his hometown and in Indiana, where his two daughters have lived.

Schlichter was able to establish an anti-gambling foundation and re-establish some credibility within the community. He spoke at schools and in corporate boardrooms, preaching the dangers of gambling to anyone who would listen. He also served as a WTVN (610AM) radio analyst during some of its OSU football coverage.

Last year, Schlichter published a book, Busted, in which he described a life filled with the highs of being a gifted athlete and the lows of being a gambling addict. The addiction had damaged nearly all of his relationships. It divided his family, tested his closest friendships, tainted his legacy at Ohio State, ruined his marriage and separated him from his daughters most of their lives.

In an interview with The Dispatch after his 2006 release from prison, Schlichter was remorseful for his past and vowed to try to stay clean.

“I’ve hurt a lot of people since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’m more sorry than people will ever know.”

mwagner@dispatch.com

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