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COLUMBUS — A tattoo parlor owner who bought Ohio State football memorabilia was charged Friday in federal court with drug trafficking and money laundering, though his attorney said there's no connection with the scandal unfolding over the sale of the items.
Edward Rife will plead guilty to the charges and cooperate with authorities, documents filed in U.S. District Court indicated. The charges and Rife's plea agreement don't mention the sale of the memorabilia.
Rife, 31, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 200 pounds of marijuana, and one count of money laundering, the documents showed. He could face a prison sentence of 20 years although would likely receive much less under federal sentencing rules.
The money laundering charge alleges Rife paid $21,500 for a 2005 Nissan Infinity QX56 with money earned through the alleged drug transactions, according to the documents filed Friday.
Five players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, have been suspended for the first five games this fall for accepting improper benefits from Rife totaling between $12,000 and $15,000.
Coach Jim Tressel is also suspended and is still being investigated for knowing of his players' involvement with Rife and not reporting it to the NCAA or his superiors for more than nine months.
Rife's lawyer said Friday his client is taking responsibility for past mistakes.
"His criminal allegations and what are going on in federal court really has little or nothing to do with the Ohio State football players," added attorney Stephen Palmer. "He's dealing with a very troubling time anyway and to have the heat from the Ohio State situation come down on him has been terrible."
Rife remains a fan of the Ohio State football program, Palmer said.
"He didn't want any harm to come on any players or the university or the program or coach Tressel or anyone," Palmer said. "If he's responsible for anything, it's being a quality Ohio State fan."
Neither the U.S. Attorney's office nor the Internal Revenue Service, which investigated the money laundering charge against Rife, would comment.
Although Rife's guilty plea doesn't mention Ohio State or the players' suspensions, OSU first learned of the memorabilia sales through the federal investigation into Rife.
Tressel received an email in April 2010 from a Columbus lawyer, Chris Cicero, who was a former Ohio State walk-on and letterman in the 1980s. He told Tressel that at least two current Buckeyes players had sold signed Ohio State memorabilia to Rife, who ran a local tattoo parlor. Cicero also said that they had received free tattoos.
Cicero said that Rife was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking investigation.
The two players were later revealed to be Pryor and wide receiver DeVier Posey. In an email response the same day, Tressel wrote, "Thanks. I will get on it ASAP."
Tressel later said that he felt bound by a vow of confidentiality to not disclose anything about the email, even though there is nothing in it about remaining quiet. He and Cicero traded emails twice more, with more information given to Tressel about the infractions. Cicero said he had even spoken to Rife for 90 minutes.
Athletic director Gene Smith has said Tressel never notified him, his Ohio State bosses or anyone in the university's compliance department. He also did not contact the lawyers on staff about the situation, though he did forward the original email to Ted Sarniak, a businessman and mentor of Pryor in his hometown of Jeannette, Pa.
Tressel signed an NCAA form in September in which he said he had no knowledge of any rules violations. When the U.S. Attorney 's office came to Ohio State in December to tell of its investigation that uncovered memorabilia in Rife's possession, the school began an investigation of its own. During interviews that month, Tressel did not disclose what he knew at any time.