Former NBA player goes to prison for failing to pay child support

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 20, 2013 

— Kenny Ray Williams, a former NBA player from Elizabeth City once in the limelight for his incredible leaping ability, was under a glaring spotlight on Tuesday for off-court behavior that landed him in federal court.

Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward who played with the Indiana Pacers in the early 1990s, rose before U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle in a Raleigh federal courtroom to be sentenced for failing to pay more than $660,000 in child support.

His hearing offered a peek into the big dreams and big problems that professional basketball players can have after failing to make it big in the NBA.

For much of the past decade, Williams has been abroad, playing professional basketball in Israel, learning Hebrew, converting to Judaism and starting a second family in a country that is miles away from the three children he left behind in the United States.

Williams – a prep sensation in the late 1980s with all the buzz of an Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Kemp and Billy Owens – was recruited heavily by the University of North Carolina, but failed to meet minimum academic standards, according to media reports, and was never offered a scholarship.

The Elizabeth City native played one year at Barton Community College in Kansas, scoring 20.5 points and notching 8.9 rebounds a game.

In 1990, he was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers and remained on the team for four years.

Federal prosecutors contend that Williams was earning $750,000 a year by 1994 but not paying support for the children he had at the time.

In 1995, after he left the Pacers, he was ordered to pay $3,750 a month for the support of his three children.

Williams said in federal court on Tuesday that he did not dispute that he owed child support payments, but he challenged salary figures and details provided by prosecutors.

Between 1995 and December 2000, when Williams entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, investigators contend that he pulled down salaries ranging from $90,000 to $180,000 per year. He played with professional teams in Italy, France and Israel, all the while, according to prosecutors, staying in big houses and driving fancy cars.

While he lived abroad, prosecutors said, his former wife and three children – now 23, 21 and 20 – were recipients of Welfare and Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

His son, Kenneth Williams Jr., 21, told Judge Boyle on Tuesday that until his father’s arrest and appearance in federal court, he had not seen him since he was in the third grade.

Prosecutors argued that Williams had reneged on a plea arrangement they entered with him almost 13 years ago and asked that he be sentenced to prison. They argued that he fled the country before a 2001 sentencing hearing and caused his attorney to file a motion to continue the proceeding, claiming he was overseas and unable to afford the cost of traveling to the United States.

But prosecutors said Williams was in this country that summer, playing basketball with the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets before going overseas again.

Boyle sentenced Williams to nine months in prison with credit for the months he already served. After his active prison sentence, he will be on supervised probation. He also was ordered to pay $661,277 in restitution.

Williams acknowledged that he made poor choices. He said he should have let the courts know his income had changed when he left the Pacers and sought a different payment plan. He said that during his three years in the NBA, he made between $75,000 and $375,000, much less than prosecutors contended.

“I’m not saying I don’t owe child support,” Williams told the judge. “I’m just saying it’s not what they say.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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