Former NBA player Kermit Washington charged by the Department of Justice

NBA dunks new multiyear deal in Africa

This time, Kermit Washington couldn't throw the first punch.

The ex-NBA player perhaps best known for an infamous brawl in the late 1970s has now been hit with a slew of charges by the Justice Department that land him in prison for decades.

Washington, who was arrested Tuesday in Los Angeles, is accused of using Project Contact Africa, the charity he founded and ran, to defraud donors to fund his vacations, jewelry anc even his rent. Investigators said the fraud totaled "hundreds of thousands of dollars" but they didn't offer specifics.

The charity was supposed to put all of its donations to Africa.

"Washington profited by diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations that (were) supposed to benefit a clinic in Africa for needy families and children, but instead bankrolled his own personal spending," said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

Kermit Washington
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Kermit Washington, former NBA player

Washington was universally reviled after he decked the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich in a brawl during a 1977 game.

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DOJ investigators say National Football League Hall-of-Famer Ron Mix, who worked as a lawyer and on Monday pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return, received referrals to his legal business from Washington and in turn, channeled payments to the charity.

Mix's post-NFL career has consisted of legal work, running a practice that files workers' compensation claims on behalf of ex-pro athletes.

Investigators charged Washington with interfering with internal revenue laws, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and obstruction of justice. Conviction of the charges could result in a 45-year prison sentence and hefty fines. Washington allegedly conspired with others to defraud online payments companies eBay and PayPal, investigators said.

Washington could not be located for comment.