Robert Snell / The Detroit News
Retired Detroit Lions defensive lineman Luther Elliss is preparing to abandon his million-dollar Oakland Township home, the latest in a financial collapse that has forced him to file bankruptcy amid a string of failed investments and debt.
Elliss, 36, who was paid almost $11.6 million from 2000-04, is relying on area churches and friends to pay bills, his savings depleted. He lost one home in Utah to foreclosure and the married father of 11 plans on walking away from his Oakland Township home due to lack of income and high mortgage payments.
“We can’t afford it,” Elliss said in an interview with The Detroit News
The financial problems hit one of the Lions’ most popular players in recent years, a first-round draft pick who clicked with fans due to his exuberant Pro Bowl-caliber play and willingness to donate time and money to area charities.
Elliss said he hopes his financial problems serve as a cautionary tale for others, especially athletes who are faced with sudden riches.
“The Lions did a good job, they put on financial programs that we had to attend talking about investing and saving money, gave statistics on how many of us would be broke,” Elliss said. “Guys were saying, ‘It’s not going to be me, I’m too smart for that.’ And here I am, one of those guys.”
Elliss is the most recent Detroit athlete to run into financial problems, a roster that includes retired NBA star Derrick Coleman, former Detroit Red Wings stars Sergei Fedorov and Darren McCarty, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and former Detroit Lion Charlie Batch.
“My faith has helped carry us through this,” Elliss said. “If my story can help change somebody’s destiny or future, I pray that it does.”
Debt continues to pile up
Elliss and his wife filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June, one month after the U.S. Bank National Association won a $524,058 civil judgment against them tied to the Utah foreclosure.
That was the tipping point,” Elliss said.
The couple listed $1.38 million in assets and $4.4 million in liabilities — including more than $37,500 in delinquent state and local taxes.
The filing came 14 years after the Lions picked Elliss in the first round of the 1995 draft. He reached the Pro Bowl in 1999 and 2000 before being released in March 2004. He retired after playing one season with the Denver Broncos.
Elliss invested in several business ventures in retirement, including a manufacturing company called Trinity Armor, which closed a year ago. When they filed bankruptcy, Elliss was working for a Southfield insurance company, netting $1,799 a month.
Among their assets: a $347,410 NFL pension, a $198,000 annuity retirement plan, a $2,800 woman’s Rolex watch, and a 2003 GMC Savana with 122,000 miles on it, according to bankruptcy court records.
The couple’s liabilities were mostly mortgage debt on their home and an office building in Harper Woods, according to bankruptcy records.
They took out a $1.6 million mortgage on the Oakland Township home, but estimate a sale would fetch only $800,000 given current market conditions, according to bankruptcy court records.
The couple also owes $27,027 in delinquent taxes from 2007, according to the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office.
The couple also owed thousands in credit card charges, legal fees and tuition at a Christian school.
The bankruptcy case was discharged last month.