REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL
CHRONICLES THE RISE AND FALL OF FIFA’S CHUCK BLAZER
WHEN A NEW EDITION DEBUTS TONIGHT AT 10:00 P.M. (ET/PT) ON HBO
First Look: For the first time on television, Chuck Blazer’s former companion tells the inside story of his rise and fall from the heights of FIFA and former FBI agent details Blazer’s flip to government informant (Click To watch)
EXCERPTS FROM TONIGHT’S PROGRAM:
HBO’s David Scott voiceover: FIFA, based in Switzerland, is the governing body of the most popular sport on earth and its multi-billion dollar “World Cup.” Which meant that the men who controlled FIFA were the most powerful in all of sports and lived ultra-privileged lifestyles, which Mary Lynn Blanks says had to be seen to be believed.
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “I thought, like, ‘This is an amazing, amazing dream come true. It was incredible I felt like a princess.’”
Blanks had a prince charming… her ticket into FIFA’s inner sanctum… an enormous man with a commanding presence to match… her companion, Chuck Blazer.
Blazer was the lone American among the lords of soccer but he fit right in amongst a group known for living the life of royalty.
DAVID SCOTT: “He’s got a three-bedroom apartment on the 49th floor of Trump Tower. That must have cost a fortune.”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “$18,000 a month.”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “Just for the cats.”
DAVID SCOTT: “In Trump Towers, for the cats.”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “$5,500 a month.”
DAVID SCOTT: “You’re telling me that the cats lived in a one bedroom apartment…”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “On the 49th floor, overlooking The Empire State Building.”
But Chuck Blazer kept something else high atop the Manhattan skyline… a secret. While he was helping to promote the game of soccer, he was also helping himself to millions in ill-gotten gains — at FIFA’s expense: That gluttony would fuel a stunning rise and an even more stunning fall for him and the other kingpins of soccer. And all the while, one woman tried to hold on for the ride.
Mary Lynn Blanks first met Chuck Blazer nearly 40 years ago. She was an aspiring actress in New York. He was a suburban soccer dad.
But as Blazer began turning soccer in the US from a novelty into a major sport he began skimming huge cuts of the revenues for himself.
He stole millions meant to develop soccer talent in poor countries… all the while outwardly playing the hero… even posing with the young players whose support money he was plundering.
Michael Hershman has known Blazer for decades and is now an anti-corruption expert.
MICHAEL HERSHMAN: “Millions of dollars that could’ve been used for youth development in sports, for better facilities, for better health care in sports have been diverted. He pretty much had the power to do what he wanted.”
DAVID SCOTT: “It sounds like Chuck’s candy store.”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “I describe it more as a cash register.”
No one at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland seemed to notice. Instead of being investigated… Blazer was promoted with a coveted appointment to FIFA’s Executive Committee or “EXCO”.
DAVID SCOTT: “As old boys clubs go where would you put the FIFA Executive Committee?”
MICHAEL HERSHMAN: “About as exclusive a club as you could find in the world. They considered themselves to be some of the most powerful, if not the most powerful people in sport in the world.”
But to fit in with the FIFA elite and their wives, the divorced Blazer decided he’d need an appropriate companion by his side. He would also need help taking care of himself due to his weight which over the years had ballooned to over 400 pounds.
So after 25 years of silence, he wrote a letter to that woman from his past… Mary Lynn Blanks. He told her he was a new man that he now quote ‘dined with kings and presidents’ and invited her to his Trump Tower lair.
In exchange for embarrassing indignities, Blazer would pay Blanks’s bills and bring her along for his jet-setting FIFA life. Around the world they rubbed shoulders with the elite… from Vladimir Putin… to Bill Clinton. It seemed everyone, everywhere wanted to meet the men who controlled what country would host the next World Cup and to ply them with gifts that might sway their votes.
Then there were the envelopes full of cash, Blanks says… wads of ‘walking around money’ which were regularly doled out by FIFA to EXCO members as a perk.
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “Every time we’d go to FIFA, he would get two envelopes of $20,000 cash. And also it wasn’t just in Zurich. It was whenever we went to any FIFA event.”
DAVID SCOTT: “How many times over the years?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “Oh, hundreds.”
DAVID SCOTT: “Did it not seem strange to you that on all these FIFA trips, cash was being handed out like candy?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “It seemed to be the normal routine. Everybody did it.”
Stories of Swiss watches and sacks of cash had aroused suspicions for years that some in FIFA were brazenly corrupt. It seemed only a matter of time before their greed would catch up with them.
It was a lovely fall evening in 2011 when government agents showed up outside Blazer’s Trump Tower home.
DAVID SCOTT: “How did he react?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “He froze. He turned white and then very calmly he turned to me and said, ‘Mary Lynn, go on to the steakhouse without me.’”
DAVID SCOTT: “So he knew the jig was up.”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “They took him over to the atrium and they told him he was facing 75 to 100 years in prison and they could put the handcuffs on him right now unless he was willing to cooperate.”
DAVID SCOTT: “So right there is where Chuck Blazer became the government snitch?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “Yes.”
DAVID SCOTT: “Was it hard to flip him? Did it take a long time?
RICHARD FRANKEL: “It was very quick. It was not what we would call a hard flip.”
Richard Frankel headed the division of the FBI that had taken down the New York mafia.
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “He goes, ‘Mary Lynn, they’ve got me for racketeering, embezzlement, fraud, pretty much everything.’ And I said, ‘But you’re not a criminal.’ I said, ‘That’s criminal activity.’ And he goes, ‘Yes, I am.’ He said, ‘I’m just a fat crook from Queens.’”
DAVID SCOTT: “And you guys tell him he’s going to spend the rest of his life in jail or he’s got to rat out all of his fancy friends at FIFA.
RICHARD FRANKEL: “There really is no other option for him. He’s the one who gives us, ‘That guy is dirty. That guy’s dirty. That guy is dirty.’”
So Blazer told the feds how he’d taken a bribe worth nearly $1 million to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup and how he and other FIFA officials had been giving out TV contracts in exchange for millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks.
And to save himself, Blazer would have to figure out a way to get those other officials to incriminate themselves on tape. Meantime, the feds would have to figure out how to get a wire on Blazer.
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “The first time they tried to wire him it didn’t work because he’s so big and sweaty and stuff, they didn’t stick. He said, ‘This isn’t working. They’re going to give me a keychain.’”
DAVID SCOTT: “A keychain?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “A keychain that has a recording device in it.”
DAVID SCOTT: “And what was he supposed to do with that?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “He was told that when he went to dinner with the people to throw his keychain on the table. And he looked at them and said, ‘That’s so blue collar.’ And they went, ‘Just do what you’re told.’”
DAVID SCOTT: “Did he feel badly about playing this role?”
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “Not at all. He didn’t care these people were all getting carted off to jail, that their families were destroyed. It didn’t really matter to him. And he really enjoyed being James Bond.”
As for Mary Lynn Blanks, she’s left Chuck Blazer again… this time, she says, for good. And though she was never implicated in the case, she says she’s now seeking redemption of her own for sharing in the spoils of FIFA’s decadence at the expense of the world’s game.
MARY LYNN BLANKS: “I now know the damage it did to soccer. All those times I was staying in a fancy hotel, that was less money that was going to some soccer club. Now I feel guilty, because I’m like, ‘Oh geez, that $400 bottle of wine that we drank, you know, that could have paid for so much.’ And when you think of millions of dollars, you’re like, ‘Wow.’”