The son and ex-daughter-in-law of late black golf pioneer Charlie Sifford, who was born in Charlotte, were indicted Tuesday on charges they stole more than $1 million from him.
Sifford in 1961 became the first black golfer to earn full-time playing privileges on the PGA Tour, paving the way for minorities to compete at the sport’s highest level. Craig and Sandra Sifford stole the money from him over a four-year period starting in 2010 and spent it on travel, dining, clothes, jewelry and landscaping, the state attorney general’s office and the county prosecutor’s office said.
Craig and Sandra Sifford, who divorced a few months ago, were charged in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court with crimes including theft, money laundering and unauthorized use of property. Sandra Sifford also was charged with receiving stolen property.
The prosecutor’s office said an investigation into the thefts was ongoing when Charlie Sifford died at age 92 in February, not long after he suffered a stroke. Craig and Sandra Sifford’s divorce decree was granted later that month.
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The investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the county sheriff’s department, the county adult protective services agency and the Internal Revenue Service began after a complaint to law enforcement that Craig Sifford was abusing a power of attorney for his father. The couple had a home in Brecksville, the Cleveland suburb where Charlie Sifford lived.
Craig Sifford’s attorney did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday, and it was unclear who represents Sandra Sifford. A home phone number listed for them rang unanswered.
Charlie Sifford’s fame as a golfer was hard earned. He helped dismantle the PGA Tour’s Caucasian only rule but continued to face discrimination from tournament organizers in the South after earning his tour card.
Sifford has been credited with opening the doors to other minority golfers. Tiger Woods called Sifford his grandfather and said that were it not for Sifford and other pioneers he might not have played the game.
Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 and received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 2006.
Last November, Sifford received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House. Despite having won two PGA Tour events and the 1975 PGA Seniors Championship, Sifford considered his six National Negro Open titles his most significant victories.