Sam Hurd, who used football to climb from poverty to a life of luxury as an NFL receiver, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Wednesday for his role in a drug ring.
Hurd, 28, a former wide receiver with the Cowboys and Chicago Bears, had pleaded guilty in April to federal drug trafficking charges after he took cocaine from an undercover agent.
The judge ordered Hurd to complete five years of supervised release after he gets out of prison, but Hurd’s attorney said his client must serve 12 more years in prison before he is eligible for release. Before being sentenced, Hurd told the court that “my life has been a train wreck of bad decisions.”
While pleading for a lighter sentence — federal sentencing guidelines called for him to spend more than 27 years in prison — Hurd told U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis that the year he has already spent in detention has broken his addiction to marijuana.
Hurd said he never considered that lending $88,000 to his friend and co-defendant, Toby Lujan, who has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing on drug charges, would ever get him involved in a cocaine possession and sales conspiracy.
Lujan, a mechanic who took care of Hurd’s vehicles, borrowed $88,000 and Hurd’s Cadillac Escalade to take care of a family emergency, Hurd’s attorney said. Lujan was trying to purchase cocaine for himself, Hurd said. Federal prosecutors said Lujan told them he was purchasing the cocaine for Hurd.
“My obvious regret was ever having smoked marijuana,” Hurd said. “I regret surrounding myself with people who think buying and selling marijuana is OK. I regret my actions that have caused me to lose the football career I worked at earning since I was seven. I regret that this has stopped me from working with kids.”
Hurd said he got a scholarship to the University of Northern Illinois but left college with a marijuana addiction. Hurd did not admit to aspiring to be a regional cocaine distributor with drug sales operations in Texas, California and Illinois, the charge prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office argued.
Hurd did admit to trying to buy into a medical marijuana dispensary in California and said he was always looking for business opportunities that might support his family after his football career. Hurd told Solis that he took responsibility for the banter between him, an undercover law enforcement officer and a confidential informant that led to his initial arrest.
“They laughed at me so much in prison,” Hurd said. “I am the dumbest person who ever tried to be a drug dealer.”
Solis explained that under federal law, a person does not actually have to complete a drug transaction to be prosecuted for drug dealing, just agree to it. But Solis also said that the idea that no drugs were actually ever sold in this case did give him some trouble.
Solis called the case tragic.
“You had everything going for you and no reason to get involved,” Solis said.
Hurd’s attorney, Jay Ethington, said his client’s downfall came after he began to smoke marijuana, which he did regularly when playing in the NFL.
“Sam was a weed-head,” Ethington said in an interview with Star-Telegram. “He became almost addicted to marijuana. Word got out that Sam would share his marijuana with you. Some players liked to use it as a pain suppressant.”
Despite his guilty plea, Hurd and his attorney said he was not involved in cocaine.
Ethington argued that federal agents supplied the cocaine used in the arrests of Hurd and his co-defendants because marijuana possession and sales do not generate life sentences.
“Sam never denied his marijuana use,” Ethington said. “He’s trying to tell everyone who will listen that he’s not a coke dealer.”
Arrested in December 2011
Hurd was arrested Dec. 14, 2011, after he walked out of Morton’s Steakhouse Restaurant in Rosemont, Ill., with a kilogram of cocaine inside a “Happy Birthday” gift bag.
Robert Alacorn, an agent with Homeland Security, said he and two other agents recorded Hurd’s conversation with an undercover officer and a confidential informant just prior to the arrest, according to court documents.
Hurd wanted to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine a week and 1,000 pounds of marijuana, transcripts of Hurd’s revocation of his pretrial release showed. Hurd also requested Mexican cell phones, because U.S. phones were monitored by law enforcement. The undercover officer offered Hurd a Mexican passport.
Hurd “stated that his current supplier could only supply him with four kilograms weekly,” the transcript showed.
Hurd’s pretrial release was revoked based on allegations that he conspired to sell more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 50 kilograms of marijuana while out of prison.
Hurd has been in federal custody at the Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution in Dallas since August 2012. Jesse Tyrone Chavful, Hurd’s cousin and another co-defendant, received an 8-year prison sentence and is appealing his case.
Hurd’s attorneys argued that government prosecutors, accepted Chavful’s word that he was trying to purchase cocaine for Hurd, Ethington said. The new charge from Chavful’s case added a sentencing report that said Hurd tried to purchase five kilograms of cocaine and more than 50 kilograms of marijuana while he was on pre-trial release.
Hurd denied the charge.
“I cannot accept responsibility because the government is simply wrong about my involvement in Chavful’s activities,” Hurd said.
Wore faith on his sleeve
Hurd, who played college football at Northern Illinois, was popular with the Cowboys for his animated style of play, friendly personality and Christian faith.
“I don’t worry about disappointing fans, teammates, coaches. I only worry about working for my Father,” Hurd said in a Star-Telegram article in 2009. “And if you work for him, you can’t disappoint him, so that’s why I feel free and am having fun.”
Hurd’s religious beliefs are real, Ethington said, despite his criminal behavior.
“I’ve seen a lot of pro athletes and I’ve represented a lot,” Ethington said. “Hurd’s charity work is as extensive and genuine as any I’ve seen. He doesn’t notify the media first and he’s done thousands of hours of service without photo ops.”
Players thought highly enough of Hurd to make him the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, which exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage, the same year he was arrested.
The lanky wide receiver played for the Cowboys between 2006 and 2010, mostly as a backup wide receiver and on special teams before signing a contract with the Bears in 2011 that was reportedly worth $5.15 million.
According to a recent Sports Illustrated article, Hurd shared the marijuana that he had shipped from California with about 20 to 25 Cowboys teammates.
Dallas Cowboys teammate Jason Hatcher said Tuesday that he never knew anything about the marijuana use that may have involved some of his fellow players.
He sympathizes with the prison-bound man.
“At the end of the day, you got to have a soft place in your heart for a guy like that with family, kids,” Hatcher said. “It’s possible he could go to prison without knowing his daughter or whatever.”
Star-Telegram sports writer Clarence Hill contributed to this report, which includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.