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FIFA scandal defendant enters not guilty plea in Brooklyn

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Aaron Davidson (l.) is the first defendant charged in what Justice Department officials have described as a decades-long bribery scandal to appear in a United States court.Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News

Aaron Davidson (l.) is the first defendant charged in what Justice Department officials have described as a decades-long bribery scandal to appear in a United States court.

Aaron Davidson once globe-trotted to exotic foreign locales to cut deals with international soccer’s most important officials — but now the sports marketing executive may not even be able to leave his apartment to use the small fitness center in his Miami condominium complex.

Davidson, one of 14 international soccer executives charged with racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud and other counts in the bombshell FIFA indictment unsealed this week, pleaded not guilty Friday in Brooklyn federal court. Davidson, who was also the chairman of the board of the North American Soccer League before NASL severed ties with him, is the first defendant charged in what Justice Department officials have described as a decades-long bribery scandal to appear in a United States court. The others are in the process of being extradited.

Prosecutor Darren LaVerne told U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak that Davidson had a agreed to post a $ 5 million bond secured by the Miami home he owns with his wife, Michelle Dryjansky, as well as properties in Florida and Texas owned by his parents. Dryjansky and Davidson’s parents attended Friday’s arraignment but declined to talk to reporters.

Davidson, 44, will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device and will be permitted to leave his apartment only with prior approval from the FBI for court hearings, medical appointments and religious services. He may even be barred from leaving the apartment to exercise if the electronic monitoring device does not work in his condominium’s gym.

LaVerne said Davidson’s net worth — including the $ 400,000 condo used to secure his bond — is $ 1.3 million, which does not seem like much for an executive who allegedly regularly cut deals worth millions of dollars for more than 20 years. LaVerne did not raise the possibility that Davidson, scheduled to return to court on July 17, could have additional assets in offshore accounts.

Davidson, the president of a sports marketing company called Traffic Sports USA, was among 14 people named in the indictment that claims soccer officials took more than $ 150 million in bribes by marketing firms seeing broadcast rights and other contracts as well as by countries hoping to host the World Cup.

The indictment alleges that Davidson was involved in a $ 3 million bribe delivered to a FIFA official that resulted in a $ 24 million deal that gave Traffic the marketing rights to World Cup qualifying matches. The indictment also claims Davidson acknowledged during a 2014 meeting with an unnamed co-conspirator that the bribery scheme could lead to prison.

“Is it illegal? It is illegal,” the indictment quotes Davidson telling his associate. “Within the big picture of things, a company that has worked in this industry for 30 years, is it bad? It is bad.”

Davidson’s parents, accompanied by an FBI agent, avoided the media scrum waiting outside the courthouse by exiting through a garage, a practice normally reserved for witnesses and cooperating defendants.

Davidson’s attorney, Michael Hantman, declined to comment when asked if his client would cooperate with the government.

Jose Hawilla, the owner of Traffic Sports USA’s Brazilian parent company, the Traffic Group, pleaded guilty in December to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Traffic Sports USA and another subsidiary, Traffic Sports International, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy earlier this month.

Meanwhile, U. S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie ordered the government to partially unseal a redacted transcript of American soccer official Chuck Blazer’s November 2013 plea hearing in the case. Media outlets filed requests to unseal the transcript this week, but the government filed a sealed opposition to the request, proposing instead to unseal a redacted transcript.

“Pending further review of those materials and statements already in the public realm, the court will approve the partial unsealing of the redacted transcript,” Dearie wrote. “The government is ordered to electronically file a redacted copy of the transcript of the 11/23/13 proceeding by or before 6/3/2015.”

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