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Wednesday, October 9
Ex-Panther accused of stealing check from team

Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns linebacker Darren Hambrick practiced Wednesday and was expected to play this weekend despite being charged with stealing a check for about $5,700 from the Carolina Panthers.

Hambrick is accused of stealing the money three weeks after joining the Panthers in October 2001, according to court records.

He flew to Florida on Monday and surrendered to authorities, who had issued an arrest warrant for the fifth-year linebacker in August, just days before he signed with the Browns. He was released on $10,000 bail.

Browns coach Butch Davis said the team did not plan to discipline Hambrick, their starting strongside linebacker. The Browns are scheduled to play the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sunday.

"We are practicing and preparing for Darren to play,'' Davis said after practice. "As we speak right now, there is no reason why he shouldn't play.''

The 27-year-old Hambrick was issued a payroll check from the Panthers on Nov. 11, but then asked the team to stop payment because he never received it, records said.

Another check for the same amount was sent to Hambrick, and on Jan. 29 a man who identified himself as Hambrick cashed both checks at a Bank of America branch in Dade City, according to the records.

A bank representative told a detective she contacted Hambrick and asked him to return the $5,682.51, but he refused, the records said.

"We initiated the complaint against him back in March for grand theft, the state attorney issued the warrant, and somehow he got wind of the warrant and turned himself in,'' Dade City police Capt. David Duff said.

Duff said if Hambrick hadn't returned to Florida and surrendered, police may have arrested him this weekend.

When Hambrick was approached for a comment Wednesday in the Browns' locker room, he was ushered away by a member of the club's media relations staff.

Hambrick played for the Panthers last season after spending three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Browns signed him as a free agent on Aug. 10 after Pro Bowl linebacker Jamir Miller sustained a season-ending injury.

Davis said the club had no knowledge that Hambrick was wanted before they signed him. Hambrick told the Browns of his legal problems a few weeks ago, Davis said.

"He was forthright and came forward made us aware of the situation,'' Davis said. "It wasn't something we dug up.''

Davis said Hambrick told him that he has made financial restitution.

NFL spokesman Steve Alic cited the league's personal conduct policy, which requires Hambrick to undergo counseling. If Hambrick is convicted or admits to criminal conduct he would be subject to a fine, suspension without pay or banishment from the league at the discretion of commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Davis said he has not heard from the league.

Hambrick arrived at the Pasco County jail Monday and posted bail, a jail spokeswoman said. An initial court appearance had not been scheduled.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to a fine, probation or jail.

Hambrick's agent, Derrick Harrison, declined comment.

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