CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The founder of a now-defunct private school in Charlotte was sentenced to federal prison Tuesday morning in a case that investigators said essentially boiled down to human trafficking.
Evelyn Mack will spend the next 18 months behind bars.
The government said Mack set up a private school in Charlotte -- the Evelyn Mack Academy -- and used it to promise foreign teens they would play at a prominent school with scholarship offers.
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Instead, prosecutors said those athletes vanished in the hands of recruiters and basketball coaches. Some reappeared in towns more than 100 miles away and others were missing for months.
The assistant U.S. attorney on the case said one of the former student-athletes is now homeless.
Mack faced up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of concealing, harboring or shielding unlawful aliens. She admitted to playing a role in the human trafficking ring.
After her sentencing, Mack left the courtroom in a wheelchair. She has Parkinson's, a fact the judge considered when he gave her leniency.
"She was somewhat disappointed, but she was very calm and very reflective about it,” Mack’s attorney, James Exum, said. “All things considered, it was a fair sentence."
Exum said Mack hoped for a better deal when she pleaded guilty.
She also gave prosecutors the names of coaches and recruiters who were all eager to find talent.
The judge referred to human trafficking for athletic talent as a serious problem that is fueled by self-interest and greed of coaches and recruiters.
"Certainly it starts in a certain sense with Miss Mack, but the real culprit are the coaches. And they’re still out there. They’re free, and they’re still doing the same thing all over the country,” Exum said.
(Evelyn Mack leaves federal court Tuesday)
The government said Mack made around $75,000 by hiding 75 foreign student-athletes who were in the country illegally.
A federal complaint alleged Mack conspired to hide the foreign student-athletes from the Department of Homeland Security and profited from it.
The complaint alleges Mack "knowingly and intentionally entered false information regarding whether these foreign nationals were in compliance with their F-1 student visas."
Federal investigators said Mack helped coaches and recruiters circumvent the student visa system by saying students were "properly enrolled and maintaining a full course of study when she knew the information was false."
Channel 9 confronted Mack in 2016 with allegations she was connected to a human trafficking ring.
"I would never participate in human trafficking. All of my students are here legally," she told us then.
The academy ceased operations in 2017.
Mack will be kept in a low security facility because of her health and will serve a year of supervised release when she gets out.
As for the coaches who were named in the case, there was mention of other investigations taking place, but it's unclear if they will be prosecuted.
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