DALLAS -- A judge sentenced former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Eugene Lockhart Jr. to 4 1/2 years in federal prison Wednesday for taking part in a multimillion-dollar scheme to swindle home lenders and potential home buyers with fraudulent mortgages.
Lockhart pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Nine others indicted have already been sentenced.
Best of Steelers vs. CowboysCheck out the best photos of Steelers vs. Cowboys matchups through the years.
Lockhart admitted to being part of an effort to use fraudulent loan paperwork to deceive mortgage lenders while buying homes in the Dallas area. Prosecutors say some of Lockhart's co-defendants recruited potential home buyers with bonuses and promises of help with their mortgage payments. Some of Lockhart's businesses also referenced the Cowboys and "America's Team" in their names.
U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis sentenced Lockhart before a courtroom packed with family members, friends and ex-Cowboys, including Hall of Famer Randy White and team legends Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Drew Pearson.
White and others who spoke in support of Lockhart and described him as a warm, generous man who was a good player, but not a good businessman. Some talked about Lockhart's previous failures at pool construction and photo labs. Others said they questioned whether he knew enough about mortgage paperwork or the real estate business.
"He is a football player," said John Villarreal, a friend and former business partner. "That's what he likes to do, and did very well."
Lockhart was drafted by the Cowboys in 1984 and played seven seasons for the team, earning the nickname "Mean Gene" for his physical play.
Lockhart's attorney, Jay Ethington, called his client a "figurehead" whose name was misused by smarter people. And Lockhart himself apologized, saying he had stepped into a game in which he didn't understand all the rules -- and then didn't speak up when he saw wrongdoing.
"It looked good, the money looked good, and I fell into it," Lockhart said.
Prosecutor David Jarvis called on Solis not to give Lockhart a "special break" due to his playing days.
"Borrower after borrower after borrower, their credit was ruined," Jarvis said.
As White told stories about how he and Lockhart played for famed Cowboys ex-coach Tom Landry, members of the audience laughed, but Solis stared quietly without any reaction. The judge said he didn't believe Ethington's argument that seven concussions Lockhart suffered during his playing days affected how much he could remember for authorities about the scheme.
Lockhart declined to comment after the hearing. Solis ordered him to report to prison on Jan. 16.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press