Wealthy widow Anita Barney lost nearly her entire fortune to an ex-Ohio State quarterback who defrauded her of hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed a gambling addiction that left him banished from the NFL.
But instead of garnering sympathy, Barney found herself vilified and facing her own criminal charges after talking numerous friends into handing over nearly $500,000 as part of the same scheme.
Now 74 and living off Social Security after surviving breast cancer, Barney is trying to publicly rebuild her reputation.
“I cry every day about this and I pray to God that they understand,” Barney said.
Her self-published book — “Quarterback Sneak” — details her experience at the hands of football great Art Schlichter, who played for Ohio State between 1978 and 1981 and later for the Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, and the Detroit and Cincinnati Arena League teams.
Before his most recent conviction, Schlichter spent 10 years in prison in Indiana for gambling-related crimes. The NFL has suspended him for life.
Barney’s message is straightforward: She’s sorry about what happened but had little choice because of threats Schlichter made — including harming her adult children — as he egged her on. Schlichter’s blustery and vulgar demands were captured on recordings made by investigators.
Upon release in 2006, Schlichter wrote a book about his addiction, “Busted,” and became an anti-gambling crusader. But even as he railed against casinos during church appearances, he was racking up new gambling debts.
Thirty years earlier, Schlichter was a revered OSU star who had comforted Barney’s son while he recovered from a plane crash. In 2009, after Barney re-introduced herself at one of his church talks, Schlichter asked for a $10,000 loan to buy a car to visit his daughters in Indiana.
Barney, the widow of a former Wendy’s CEO, was accustomed to helping people. She wrote the check without hesitation. Soon after, Schlichter asked for $100,000 to pay off gambling debts and help other gambling addicts. He promised to repay her with proceeds from his book. More requests followed, with Schlichter enlisting her in what he said was a money-making investment involving the buying and selling of college football, NFL and Super Bowl tickets.
Soon Barney’s fortune was gone and she was begging Schlichter for grocery and gas money. At his orders, she was also calling her own friends to enlist them in the scheme. Several lost tens of thousands of dollars.
Many of Barney’s victims were well-known and well-off suburban Columbus residents reluctant to get involved in a criminal case.
As a result, prosecutors say Barney’s eventual cooperation was vital to convicting Schlichter, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal counts of wire fraud, bank fraud and filing a false income tax return.
Barney pleaded guilty herself to two felony theft charges in 2012. She avoided prison but was ordered to pay $427,000 to 19 victims.
Some of Barney’s victims have stood by her. Among them: Sue Noe, the Barneys’ former cleaning woman who with her husband drained a home equity loan to give Barney $85,000 — none of which she’s ever gotten back.
Noe, 72, accompanied Barney to a taping of “Dr. Phil” last month and believes she’s remorseful.
“All of this time, it’s like forget, forgive,” Noe said. “I had to try to erase everything that happened to me. It happened — nothing I could do about it.”
Others aren’t so compassionate.
“I don’t want anything to do with her because I still don’t feel that she’s sincere in anything she says,” said David Froggatt, a high school classmate of Barney’s and retired truck driver who lost $20,000.
Schlichter is serving a federal prison sentence in Indiana, scheduled for release in 2020. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and is receiving medical treatment, according to his attorney, Steve Nolder. Schlichter still faces state prison time once his federal sentence ends.
Barney’s story would be better if she acknowledged she evolved from victim to co-conspirator, Nolder said.
Barney has pledged to pay people back with any proceeds from her book.
“Material things don’t mean that much to me anymore,” Barney said. “I survived this cancer, I survived Art, and I feel like I’m here for a purpose now. I don’t know what it’s for, but I’ll be OK.”