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Art Schlichter’s 'sad, tragic' life behind bars

Art Schlichter sometimes shakes uncontrollably and he sometimes forgets. What was that first bet he ever placed? What did it feel like to be a Heisman Trophy candidate at Ohio State? Which year was it that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle banned him from the league?

He has tremors that come and go.

What a peculiar feeling this is compared to being that invincible quarterback. That guy who placed his first bet with some buddies and felt ecstasy he could never describe no matter how hard he tried.

The only way to capture the high was to do it again. And again and again.

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Schlichter is 60 and he is a far cry from that rugged, dark-haired, charismatic man whom one of his mentors says was so electric he could have been the governor of Ohio.

He wears thin, wrinkled prison garb. He frets about the prison air being filled with COVID-19. And he cannot for the life of him fill in all the blanks.

He has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and dementia.

In a series of emails to The Indianapolis Star as his release from a federal prison in Colorado approached, he was evasive about his life of compulsive gambling and financial fraud that hurt so many.

For three months, he never answered questions about his addiction. He talked about feeling bad for hurting people close to him. He talked about feeling like a victim himself.

He said he wanted to tell his story of how he has been treated unfairly by the courts and prosecutors, how maybe he could help others suffering from a gambling addiction.

"i was glad to hear back from you...i thought you read my emails and thought "this guys(sic) is nuts" and just lost interest"

About how it is time he be released after serving yet another long sentence.

"my story now consists of being unfairly treated and being coerced into taking a plea bargain and the prosecutor in Columbus broke the plea agreement i had with him and the judge and it has affected my life each and everyday since...i should have been home 2 years ago...i have never spoken about this before on the record...i should have along time ago but felt like it would hurt me more in the long run but i was wrong not to talk about..."

How if this article is to be written, he has some conditions. No naming his daughters or his mother's location. No talking to this person or that person. But definitely talk to this person and that person. (IndyStar did not accept the conditions.)

They will help fill in the gaps of the things he has forgotten.

But Schlichter hasn't forgotten — at least not one thing.

Schlichter, according to prison records, has not forgotten how to gamble.

'Past the point of rehabilitation'

Schlichter is in the Federal Correctional Institute in Florence, Colorado, on federal fraud charges for a massive ticket scheme that bilked millions of dollars from his victims. He promised college and NFL game tickets, including tickets to the Super Bowl, to buyers. He never delivered the tickets despite being paid for them.

In May 2012, Schlichter was sentenced to nearly 11 years in Florence and 10 years in an Ohio penitentiary. The two sentences were to be served concurrently.

From inside the walls of prison just months before his scheduled Aug. 18 release, even as he was corresponding with IndyStar, Schlichter was having women outside the prison place bets for him, says Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.

Schlichter also was betting inside prison with other inmates, O'Brien said. Prison officials found out through emails and phone calls that Schlichter was gambling from inside. He was banned from email for 90 days in March because of his gambling, according to prison records.

As he was set to finish serving his 11 year-sentence in federal prison (which he completed in just more than eight years), Schlichter's attorney, Stephen Palmer, filed a motion that his remaining state time — about nine months — should be waived. Palmer said last month that his client suffers from health problems and deserves to be released.

"We can only take so much pounds of flesh out of one human," Palmer said. "He did his crimes; he's served his time. Time to let him out."

O'Brien said outside a Columbus courtroom on Wednesday that Schlichter "is a career criminal engaged in fraud as a career. He just cannot help himself."

Schlichter just months ago had another ticket scheme going in prison, O'Brien said. He persuaded an inmate's family member that he had Super Bowl tickets and that family member paid Schlichter money for them.

"Why? I can't tell you, given his history," O'Brien said. "But from prison, he is convincing another inmate to have their family buy Super Bowl tickets from him."

That witness was in court Wednesday ready to testify, but at the start of the hearing, Palmer withdrew his request for Schlichter's early release. And Schlichter, who was to appear in court via video, did not.

Palmer said afterward that he was certain Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Chris Brown was going to deny the request, which the judge confirmed. Because Schlichter's petition was withdrawn, it can be filed again. If the hearing had gone forward and a judge had denied it, Schlichter would have no chance for an early release.

Schlichter's continued gambling in prison is a major red flag, Judge Brown said Wednesday.

And Schlichter will not be free when he is released from federal prison later this month. Instead, he will be transferred to Ohio to serve the remaining nine months of his state sentence in a penitentiary.

"He is past the point of rehabilitation," said Brown. "To release him now would be to subject the people of Franklin County to further criminal conduct. I have no faith he is going to get out and conduct (himself appropriately)."

For now, Schlichter remains prisoner No. 30044-048.

A 'devil Art and the real Art'

Through the years, Schlichter has been particularly adept at persuading women to help him, said Arnie Wexler, a nationally renowned expert on compulsive gambling who has been a mentor to Schlichter.

"That's been his nature all these years. He's always been able to get money from females," said Wexler. "He will con the pants off of anyone. The guy's really smart, but he's also really sick."

There was Schlichter's public defender in Indianapolis, Linda M. Wagoner, whom he persuaded to sneak a cellphone into jail two decades ago so he could place bets.

Wagoner pleaded guilty in December 2000 to a misdemeanor trafficking charge for smuggling the phone into the Marion County Jail. In 2003, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended Wagoner for 90 days and put her on probation for two years after that.

"I am a basket case, physically, mentally," Wagoner said in an IndyStar article. "I look at myself and think, 'I have been a lawyer for almost 25 years. I have never, ever done anything to get myself in trouble, ever.'"

Yet, for Schlichter, she did.

For Mitzi Schlichter — now remarried and Mitzi Subrin — her 9-year marriage to Schlichter was "tumultuous." She married Schlichter in 1989 and, at first, had no idea he was gambling. Subrin did not return IndyStar requests for this story. She did detail what it was like to be married to Schlichter in a 1998 IndyStar article.

Schlichter placed bets from a phone he kept stashed in the trunk of the car, she said. When Mitzi went to bed, Schlichter stayed up late tracking scores and his wagers. She sometimes woke to him vomiting. He told her it was the flu, but it was really his nerves.

When Art had money riding on a game, his whole body twitched, she said. Around home, cash vanished. "I would say, 'Art, I had $100 in my purse. Did you take it?'" Subrin told IndyStar a year after the couple's divorce.

But one of the incidents in their marriage that most worried and infuriated Subrin happened in 1990 when she was in the hospital to give birth to their daughter. She took her jewelry off and laid it to the side.

Schlichter took her wedding ring, she said, and pawned it for money to gamble. When he went to buy it back, the ring had been sold.

One of Schlichter's most noted connections to a woman was his scandal with Anita Barney. The widow of a former CEO of Wendy's, Barney was first one of Schlichter's victims.

After taking Barney's money, he persuaded her to become his accomplice. Barney stole nearly half a million dollars from friends as Schlichter guided her. She pleaded guilty to two felony counts of theft and did not serve any time.

In his 2009 book, "Busted: The Rise and Fall of Art Schlichter," Schlichter talks about his mother, Mila, and how awful he was to her, stealing money any chance he could.

It's as if there are two Art Schlichters, his father, Max Schlichter, told IndyStar three years before his death in 2002. "A devil Art," he said, "and a real Art."

Schlichter was thoughtful in his emails to IndyStar, such as this one on March 26:

"when i didn't hear from you once again, i thought you weren't interested anymore...are you ok as far as the (coronavirus) is concerned? are you in Indianapolis in lockdown or are you out and about doing stories?"

But then IndyStar published a story in July about Schlichter being disciplined in prison for placing bets even as his lawyer was fighting for his release. Days later, July 27, Schlichter cut off contact. A final email came from FCI Florence to IndyStar.

Subject: Inmate: SCHLICHTER, ARTHUR E

The above-named inmate has chosen to remove your email address from his/her approved contact list and, therefore, can not receive or send messages to your email address.

But the emails he had previously sent laid out his rationale for his behavior, stemming, he said, from traumas he suffered in his childhood.

'Tragedy in my life'

March 15: "did you read the book i wrote with Jeff shook 11 years ago...it would give you some background on my first 30 years or so...my father committed suicide in 2002...my sister died of a blood clot in 2018...some tragedy in my life for sure."

Arthur Ernest Schlichter was born to John (Max) and Mila Schlichter on April 25, 1960, with the gift of raw athleticism no matter the sport.

By 4 years old, he could dribble a basketball, really dribble it, not just bounce it. By junior high, he was the pride of his school basketball team. He once scored 47 of his team's 49 points.

As a sophomore at Miami Trace High School in Washington Court House, Schlichter was rated the top high school quarterback in the country. His team went 29-0-1. He was an all-state guard in basketball.

But in his mind, the success didn't translate. Life wasn't all easy for Schlichter. He felt pressure and there were demons.

And that, said his late, longtime psychologist, Dr. R. L. Custer, was the root of the compulsive gambling addiction that has shadowed him for life.

Addicts gamble excessively, Custer said, not for pleasure or self-punishment, but to escape pain. In 1980, after year's of Custer pushing for it, the American Psychiatric Association classified compulsive gambling as a psychological disorder.

Custer told Sports Illustrated in March 1986 he had to dig Schlichter's demons out of him.

"Nobody had ever asked him before if he had had any close calls with death," Custer told the magazine. "Incidents such as these set gamblers up psychologically. It's something unresolved they need relief from."

One of his first traumatic memories, Schlichter writes in his book, was his dad taking him and brother John to Rogers Farm. While Max Schlichter tended to horses and cattle, the two boys played.

"One day, I ran into the barn to pet the horses and there he was ... one of the hired hands just hanging there in front of my 6-year-old eyes, all his life gone from his body," Schlichter wrote.

He ran out as fast as he could. But as an adult, Schlichter wrote, the image of that man hanging in the barn still haunts him.

Another tragedy struck when Schlichter was in eighth grade. He and John were trying to remove roofing tar from a floor at their home using gasoline when a spark from an oil burner caused an explosion.

Schlichter's right side, from thigh to shoulder, was severely burned. "It was torture," Max Schlichter told Sports Illustrated. "They'd give him painkillers, but they never quite took hold. He screamed for me to let him die."

But in the next breath, Schlichter said something else, his dad said.

"When he was in the hospital, he would always repeat to himself," Max Schlichter said. "'I can play football this fall. I can play football this fall.'"

Football, it seemed, was the answer to everything. Until it wasn't.

The betting begins

When he placed his first bet, no one knows. But by the time Schlichter was in high school he was a regular gambler.

He went to Scioto Downs, a racetrack in Columbus. Mostly, he placed small bets, a few bucks. But his senior year, he took $20 and bet on a long shot and won.The payout was $150.

There was that feeling.

Once he was at Ohio State in 1978, now a 6-3, 190-pound starting quarterback for Woody Hayes, Schlichter's visits to Scioto Downs grew more frequent. Each race that ran, he bet more. Soon he was wagering $30 a race. More wins. More losses. More striving for that feeling.

He switched from horses to games when he was a junior at Ohio State. He began wagering on college basketball. He liked it because he didn't have to go to the track. He could make a phone call.

By that spring, according to his book, he was thousands of dollars in debt.

From there, Schlichter's gambling addiction spiraled out of control. He failed in the NFL after being picked fourth overall in the 1982 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. He spent time in nearly 50 different prisons and jails. He broke family members' hearts. His father killed himself.

And in 2020, a 60-year-old Schlichter begged to be released from prison.

dbenbow@indystar.com

@DanaBenbow

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