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Former Top Soccer Official Gets Ball Rolling In FIFA Investigation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than a dozen top officials at FIFA, the organization that governs world soccer, face racketeering and bribery charges. An American soccer official is at the center of the case. In testimony that was released yesterday, Chuck Blazer admitted taking bribes. He's been cooperating with the FBI and the IRS. The New York Daily News first reported on Blazer's role in the investigation last year. And we're joined now by Nathaniel Vinton. He's part of the paper's sports investigation team. Welcome.

NATHANIEL VINTON: Happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: First, give us a quick sketch. Who is Chuck Blazer?

VINTON: Chuck Blazer is a larger-than-life soccer official. He was the most powerful American executive in soccer. He sat on FIFA's executive committee, which gave him a vote on very important FIFA business. He was very influential in soccer - as influential as any American has been.

SHAPIRO: You said he's 450 pounds, huge white beard. You describe him in one article as Falstaffian. And yesterday, federal authorities, as we mentioned, released a transcript of some of his statements. What were the highlights there?

VINTON: One of the highlights was just seeing how secretive his cooperation with the federal government was. The judge made sure at one point that the courtroom was locked. It was important to keep this guilty plea a secret because this was an ongoing investigation for the last four years, and they kept it fairly secret until November when we first reported on Blazer's involvement.

SHAPIRO: You've reported some really colorful details about this guy over the last year. He rented a luxury apartment in Trump Tower for his cats?

VINTON: That's right. He had an adjacent apartment to his own apartment that he reserved for $6,000 a month, where he put his cats when they were messing up his business affairs in his beautiful apartment with a gorgeous view of Central Park.

SHAPIRO: What are some of these bizarre details? Tell us about the broader culture of corruption in this case and FIFA generally.

VINTON: Well, there was a lot of power to abuse within FIFA because if you had one of these votes and you could determine where the next World Cup would be, then everyone is kowtowing to you. And Chuck Blazer certainly had a number of international figures who treated him very well. He was on private jets with Nelson Mandela and private meetings with Vladimir Putin, people who really wanted to borrow his influence in soccer.

SHAPIRO: As more than a dozen people have already been indicted, are there other prominent American soccer officials who you expect to come to the crosshairs of this case?

VINTON: Well, at the very least, there's going to be a lot of Americans who are going to be called to testify in trials if people do end up pleading not-guilty, as we expect to be the case. There's been 14 indictments and a few more guilty pleas like Blazer's, but we're expecting more. This is a massive investigation. It's gone on four years and the corruption that's been revealed is just the tip of the iceberg.

SHAPIRO: Nathaniel Vinton, investigative sports reporter at the New York Daily News. Thanks very much.

VINTON: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And thank you for listening this morning. You can continue to follow us on social media.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

You can find us on Facebook - NPR MORNING EDITION - and also Twitter.

SHAPIRO: I'm @arishapiro. Renee is @nprmontagne. Our colleague Steve Inskeep is @nprinskeep and David Greene is @nprgreene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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