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Aaron Schachter: One person at the heart of the FIFA corruption probe is an American named Chuck Blazer. For nearly two decades, Blazer was a top soccer official and the most senior American at FIFA. He wielded a lot of influence and profited handsomely from it. Today, it was revealed that he’s already pleaded guilty to a string of charges, including racketeering, money laundering, and income tax evasion. Last year, BuzzFeed published a profile of Blazer that’s getting a lot of clicks today. It was written by Ken Bensinger.
Ken Bensinger: Chuck Blazer is sort of a mix of Santa Claus, and a soccer dad, and the most corrupt public non-elected official you can possibly imagine.
Schachter: Okay, tell us first how he got started in soccer and then why you call him so corrupt.
Bensinger: So, Chuck Blazer came up through soccer in the early 1970s at Westchester County, outside of New York City, and he was a typical soccer dad during the first American soccer boom. He was first a coach but quickly gave that up and got into running it, and discovered he had a knack for it. He had no background in sports, didn’t play sports in high school, anything like that; in fact, was a geegaw salesman.
Schachter: You mean, chachkies and stuff?
Bensinger: Chachkies. His most famous contribution to that world was he helped create the boom for the smiley face button, you might recall, from the late “˜60s and early “˜70s. He was a button manufacturer, and he sold millions, if not tens of millions of buttons, made a mint, and by most reports, lost it all. So, he had a knack for sales, and he saw in soccer a huge potential thing that no one in the US cared about or exploited. By the 1980s, he was a high official within the US soccer federation, and by 1990, he’d been elected to the #2 post in CONCACAF, which is the regional soccer federation for everything from Panama and the Caribbean, all the way up through Canada, including the US and Mexico. He, in many ways, really ran it because the number one, who was also indicted today, Jack Warner, was running it out of Trinidad and was generally uninterested in day-to-day operations. This is exactly what someone like Blazer wanted because it gave him the ability to create, almost from a whole cloth, a whole new organization and turn it into a giant revenue machine with TV front and center, created a regional cup called the Gold Cup, and TV money started pouring in.
Schachter: You’ve sort of portrayed him to be this corrupt rogue figure, but he did, as you say, create this thing out of nothing. He helped elevate soccer in the United States to what it is today, in terms of visibility and stature. Where is it that he went off the rails?
Bensinger: It’s a great question, and you’re right, this is one of the things that makes him a fascinating figure, is that he did, without question, fundamentally promote and improve soccer in this part of the world. He helped create the US national women’s team, which didn’t even exist until he was on the scene; and there’s all kinds of wonderful things he did. But he also wrote himself his own contract, which is always a bad sign when you write your own contract, in which he would get 10% of everything that CONCACAF brought in, and he got 10% year after year. On top of that, documents later showed, he also used a corporate card as if it was his personal expense account and expensed everything. The guy didn’t pay for anything forever. Flew around the world and brought in ultimately at least $23 million in his 10% commissions on everything. He had foreign bank accounts he didn’t disclose to the US. He had the CONCACAF federation by him properties in Miami and the Bahamas, which were in the federation name and then were transferred to his name. He hid assets, and generally just took a share of everything in a really dirty way.
Schachter: Chuck Blazer also used that money, according to your article, to live a pretty large, fancy life, right?
Bensinger: The word that kept coming to me, as I wrote this story to describe him, is “Falstaffian.” This is a guy who’s huge, he’s got a big beard, he loves to party, and eat, and drink, and joke, and make crude jokes in front of high-elected officials, and he doesn’t like to pay for anything, and he likes to use money that probably belonged to other people to do it.
Schachter: Ken Bensinger, I have to ask: I read that Chuck Blazer had two luxury apartments in Trump Tower in New York City--one for him and one for his cats. Is that true?
Bensinger: Some people say it’s for his cats and some say it’s for his parrot. He was famous for a bunch of quirky things about his personality, one of which that he had the cats but he also had a large green macaw that he kept with him at most times, except when he made his staff take care of it. And he had two luxury apartments inside the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue that were paid for largely by the soccer organization and not by himself, and by all accounts, they were just these gorgeous palaces that he lived in, filled with trophies and different recognitions of how wonderful he is. And the parrot occupied one and squawked all day and drove all the staff crazy. Truly a larger than life and kind of hilarious character; the kind of guy who would invite 40 of his best friends to Spago here in Los Angeles and generously pick up the tab--except, of course, who was picking up the tab was the soccer federation.
Schachter: Ken Bensinger’s profile of Chuck Blazer is in BuzzFeed. Ken Bensinger, thank you so much.
Bensinger: Oh, it’s a pleasure. I could talk about this guy all day.