Darren Sharper admits drugging women for rape in federal guilty plea in New Orleans courtroom

Darren Sharper, who won glory and a Super Bowl ring patrolling the Saints’ defensive backfield during the team’s lone championship season, admitted in federal court in New Orleans on Friday that he spent much of his early retirement drugging women with the aim of raping them.

The former All-Pro safety pleaded guilty to three counts in a conspiracy to distribute drugs with the intent to commit rape.

He signed a “factual basis” on Friday in which he specifically admitted to committing crimes in New Orleans involving three women. He also implicated former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Licciardi and ex-Morton’s Steakhouse waiter Erik Nunez in the rape scheme.

Sharper’s guilty plea marked the fourth of five such admissions he has made to allegations that he drugged and raped — or tried to rape — nine women in four states in 2013 and early 2014, before his arrest and jailing in Los Angeles in January 2014.

In March, the 39-year-old Sharper pleaded guilty or no contest in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Up next, under a “global” plea deal hammered out among his attorneys and prosecutors around the country, is an expected guilty plea in state court to three rape charges. That is scheduled for June 15.

Sharper is slated to serve at least nine more years behind bars in federal custody before being released to parole officials in California and, after that, lifetime probation in Arizona, according to the terms of the deal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Miller noted Friday that the nine-year term is longer than the 78- to 97-month range called for under federal sentencing guidelines, as interpreted by federal prosecutors and Sharper’s attorneys.

But that doesn’t mean federal probation officials will agree on that range or that U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo is obligated to stick within those guidelines.

She’s only bound by the maximum 20-year sentence on each count to which Sharper pleaded guilty.

Milazzo deferred accepting Sharper’s plea until after a pre-sentencing investigation is conducted this summer. She set sentencing for Aug. 20.

In the meantime, Sharper will meet with investigators to hold up his end of the bargain, revealing what he knows about crimes committed by others.

“Judges understand that prosecutors need a little bit of leeway in order to negotiate plea deals, and so they generally do not take it lightly to disturb that, but it is absolutely in her power to grant up to the maximum sentence,” said Tania Tetlow, a former federal prosecutor and director of Tulane’s Domestic Violence Clinic. “That’s a leap of faith for the defendant.”

Sharper is also taking a gamble in talking to investigators, who will report to the judge whether he’s being fully cooperative and fulfilling a key part of the deal, Tetlow said.

Nonetheless, legal analyst Donald “Chick” Foret, a former state and federal prosecutor, said it didn’t appear to him that Sharper was in any position to go to trial, even if the judge shot down the proposed deal.

“It’d be interesting to see what the prosecutors (would) do at that point,” Foret said. “He ... has to do everything in his power to maintain the plea bargain.”

Kyle Schonekas and Billy Gibbens, Sharper’s attorneys in New Orleans federal court, declined comment Friday.

The nine-count state indictment also names Nunez and Licciardi in a variety of crimes. It accuses all three men of aggravated rape, a crime that carries life imprisonment upon a conviction.

Licciardi, but not Nunez, is also named in the federal indictment.

Licciardi is accused of being Sharper’s accomplice in a drugging scheme involving prescription drugs known under the brand names Xanax, Ambien and Valium.

Sharper also cited the use of the party drug Ecstasy and his knowledge that he or Licciardi had spiked the drinks of three New Orleans women who said they were later raped.

Licciardi, 30, has pleaded not guilty in both state and federal court.

His lawyer, Ralph Capitelli, on Friday said the factual basis supporting Sharper’s guilty plea was pure fiction.

“Sharper is clearly lying about Brandon to keep his sweetheart deal,” Capitelli said. “Sharper has admitted ... to being a serial rapist. To get a nine-year sentence — literally, one year per rape — he will clearly say anything.

“Brandon never drugged or raped any woman. Sharper is lying and laughing at everyone, including the victims and the government, to keep his deal of the century.”

Nunez also has pleaded not guilty to aggravated rape and obstruction charges in the state case. Sharper in his factual basis doesn’t indicate that Nunez was involved in any druggings.

When Sharper pleads guilty in state court, his sentence in Louisiana will technically be 20 years. But, under the unusual, multistate deal, he would be credited for his time in federal prison, on probation or on parole in other states, unless he violates its terms.

Sharper was named in three of six counts in the federal indictment, which names Licciardi in all six counts.

The first count against Sharper accuses him of a conspiracy — dating back at least to early 2010 and running up until 2014 — to drug women “with the intent to commit a crime of violence, that is, rape.”

He also was charged with illicitly distributing drugs in two specific incidents, one involving a model he met at a pre-Super Bowl party in February 2013, the other involving a former Saintsations cheerleader, as well as another woman, at his Tchoupitoulas Street condo in September 2013.

The latter incident led to a pair of aggravated rape counts against Sharper in the state indictment handed up in December. Those are the counts to which he is expected to enter guilty pleas on a lesser charge of forcible rape.

The earlier of those two incidents resulted in an aggravated rape charge against Licciardi.

The factual basis that Sharper signed indicated he also tried to have “sexual relations” with the woman Licciardi is accused of raping, but he did not manage to do so, according to statements made during the hearing Milazzo presided over Friday.

The victim from February 2013 was given a drink she did not know was spiked with the drugs Ecstasy, Xanax and Valium, Sharper admitted Friday. FBI testing also showed she had Ambien in her system, the factual basis filed in court Friday said.

Sharper admitted one of the victims from September 2013 was given a drink she didn’t know had been spiked with Ecstasy. The second woman from that same night was given a drink spiked with Ambien.

Sharper, Nunez, Licciardi and the two women had all been at the same nightclub that night. After the women had been drugged, Sharper admitted Friday, he and Nunez “had sexual intercourse with (them) while they were incapacitated” at his condo.

The second woman has acknowledged having consensual sex with Nunez on three occasions prior to that night, while DNA testing of the former Saintsation turned up no evidence that Nunez had sex with her.

Nunez’s attorneys said Friday they saw nothing in Sharper’s admission to implicate their client in a crime.

“The government’s factual basis in support of Darren Sharper’s plea confirms what we have said all along: Erik Nunez did not do anything wrong that night,” attorneys Herbert Larson and Sara Johnson said in a statement. “He had sex with a woman with whom he was well acquainted and had been intimate with any number of times in the past. This time, like all times in the past, she was awake, coherent and consenting.”

Licciardi’s attorneys also said the former deputy had had a consensual sexual relationship with the first victim.

Sharper — who is being housed in the St. Tammany Parish jail — appeared in Milazzo’s courtroom at 9:20 a.m. Friday wearing orange jail scrubs and shackles.

Minutes later, he stood before the judge and repeatedly responded, “Yes, ma’am” as Milazzo asked a series of rote questions about whether he understood the charges and his guilty plea.

“Mr. Sharper, are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty?” the judge asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he responded.

Sharper said his profession was “broadcaster.” He also said he holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the College of William and Mary.

The multistate allegations against Sharper all involve acts committed while the former Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Saints safety was retired, working as a commentator for the NFL Network. The league-owned network quickly fired Sharper from his job as an on-air commentator after his arrest in Los Angeles.

Sharper’s collegiate alma mater has since jettisoned him from the school’s Hall of Fame.

The Saints recently said they will remove a banner from Champions Square that featured an image of Sharper running behind teammate Tracy Porter as Porter returned an interception for a touchdown to seal the Saints’ Super Bowl victory in February 2010, Sharper’s second-to-last NFL season.

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