GREENSBORO, N.C. - An 80-year-old Pro Football Hall of Famer with Alzheimer's disease is getting badly needed help with medical bills after sympathetic donors learned of allegations that an autograph dealer had scammed him.
Shawn Michael Stevens, 26, of Gloversville, N.Y., was indicted last week on federal charges of interstate transportation of stolen property and issuing counterfeit checks.
He is accused of fleecing Pete Pihos out of his football mementos, including Pro Bowl jerseys, in exchange for $30,000 in phony checks.
Pihos was an All-NFL receiver and defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1947 to 1955. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970.
Mike Smrtic, Stevens' attorney, said allegations that Stevens was targeting former professional athletes in declining mental health were unsubstantiated. He also noted that his client dealt not with the former athlete, but with his ex-wife, Donna Pihos-Howell, who has taken care of Pihos for the past four years.
Since Sports Illustrated did a story on the allegations in early March, Pihos-Howell, 63, said she has received donations to help with Pihos' medical and dental bills.
"There are just so many good people out there," she said.
It was unclear how much money Pihos received or how much was needed to pay off his medical bills, but Ron Mix, a lawyer who runs the Hall of Fame Players Association, said he will forward to Pihos about $8,500 in donations from people wanting to help.
Two autograph dealers who led authorities to Stevens, Jeff Whitmore and Mike Hauser, will split a $5,000 reward from the Hall of Famers' association. Whitmore said he will donate his share to Pihos, and Hauser said he wants to use his share for an upcoming autograph show to honor Pihos and other aging former athletes in need.
Pihos-Howell said Stevens first called her in early December and called himself Dr. James Hart, a pediatrician looking to start a sports museum.
She said she decided to sell the mementos, including leather pads and a football signed by 25 fellow Hall of Famers, to help pay mounting health care bills.
The items have since been returned to Pihos.
"He recognized the things," Pihos-Howell said, "and he was grinning about having them out."