Aaron Davidson was once a brilliant American soccer exec, the man who co-founded the North American Soccer League, the original version of Miami FC and the reborn Fort Lauderdale Strikers. But behind the scenes, prosecutors say, he was also profiting handsomely — and illegally — from the beautiful game in the form of multimillion-dollar TV contracts won through outright bribery.
Now the Brickell resident is reportedly set to plead guilty to the charges. Davidson has scheduled a change-of-plea hearing at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Brooklyn, federal court records show. His attorney didn't immediately respond to a message from New Times about the plea.
The change of plea raises an obvious question: As prosecutors still work to trace the trails of corruption to the top of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, will Davidson offer to cooperate under his new plea?
The Miamian worked closely with Jeffrey Webb, the former head of CONCACAF, the North American and Caribbean soccer federation. Webb, who was also charged in the case, in turn worked with the highest officials in FIFA, including former chief Sepp Blatter.
Could Davidson's plea be another step toward marching up that line of command? When New Times profiled Davidson last year, some experts thought so.
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"You usually see these types of mass prosecutions in racketeering cases going after the Mob or big drug organizations," Scott Sundby, a University of Miami law professor and former federal prosecutor, said at the time. "You start with the soldiers, get them to turn on the people above them, and eventually, hopefully, you get all the way to the top."
In all, Davidson is charged with orchestrating $5 million worth of bribes through Traffic Sports USA, a marketing firm he controlled. The firm was essentially a middleman for local TV rights to World Cup qualifying games. Prosecutors say Davidson paid hefty bribes to local officials in countries ranging from Costa Rica to Nicaragua to get those rights.
The case was a stunning downfall for the Texas native. Davidson, who speaks five languages, cut an outsize figure in South Florida's soccer landscape, helping to start the Miami FC in 2006 and serving as the franchise's president before moving the club to Fort Lauderdale in 2011. (The current Miami FC, which started playing this year, has no relation to that club.) Davidson was also president of the NASL, the second-division league in which the teams played.
He was charged in May 2015 in a bribery case that has now netted 17 guilty pleas from international soccer figures and businesses. Six others are awaiting trial in the case, which led to the ouster of longtime FIFA chief Sepp Blatter (who has not been charged himself.)