NEW YORK —
Nicholas Arons, one of his lawyers, said the cause was lung failure.
In 2015, the Justice Department accused many high-ranking officials of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, of schemes in which more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks were paid for tournament rights. Also charged were executives of organizations within FIFA’s orbit and a number of sports marketing companies.
Before the first indictments were unsealed, in May 2015, Mr. Hawilla, the owner and founder of Traffic Sports, had already been arrested and charged with bribery and had begun secretly recording conversations with coconspirators as part of his cooperation agreement with the government. He had also pleaded guilty to charges that included racketeering conspiracy and conspiracies to launder money and obstruct justice.
“For a long time, Hawilla was as big as it got in the business, and his influence is huge,” Pedro Daniel, an adviser to a group of Brazilian players who were trying to reform the sport, told Reuters shortly after Mr. Hawilla’s role in the case was announced.
Mr. Hawilla said he paid his first bribe in 1991, when a FIFA official demanded a payment from Traffic to retain the rights to Copa América, a tournament run by a federation called CONMEBOL and featuring South American countries as well as the United States, Mexico, and others. At first the bribes totaled six figures, but as the price of Copa América rights swelled in subsequent negotiations, the illicit payments often rose above $1 million.
For more than two decades, Mr. Hawilla continued to pay bribes directly, or through partners, to retain the rights to Copa América and to obtain the rights to two other events: the Gold Cup, a tournament featuring the national teams in the Americas, and Copa do Brasil, a competition among 91 Brazilian clubs from all the country’s states.
The tens of millions in bribes that Mr. Hawilla paid over many years and the rights they secured for Traffic helped him build the company into a lucrative business. Court papers showed, for example, that Traffic’s profit from Copa América grew from $9.9 million in 2001 to $29.1 million six years later.
Mr. Hawilla’s guilty plea required him to forfeit all or most of the riches created by this deal making. Of the $151 million he was ordered to surrender, he is known to have paid $25 million.
For most of the time since his arrest, he had been living in Florida. He had not yet been sentenced.
Last year, breathing through an oxygen tank, Mr. Hawilla testified in US District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the trial of the former heads of three South American soccer organizations. His voice was also heard on the secret recordings, including one with José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation and one of the defendants.
In the recording, Marin was heard negotiating a bribe with Mr. Hawilla and saying: “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”
“Of course,” Mr. Hawilla responded. “That money had to be given to you.”
A jury convicted Marin on six counts of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy. It also convicted Angel Napout, the former head of CONMEBOL, on three counts of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. Manuel Burga, a Peruvian official, was acquitted.
‘For a long time, Hawilla was as big as it got in the business.’
Mr. Hawilla testified that he had been disgusted that he had to bribe officials, but that he did so nonetheless.
To buy the rights to the Gold Cup through CONCACAF, the soccer confederation of North and Central America and the Caribbean, he was told, he said, that he had to pay off Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Chuck Blazer of the United States, both powerful former officials of FIFA and CONCACAF.
Warner was indicted but is fighting extradition. Blazer pleaded guilty in 2013, became a government witness, and died last year. There have been 24 publicly announced individual guilty pleas in the case so far.
Mr. Hawilla was a radio sports journalist before attending law school and later covered sports on television. He then bought Traffic, a bus-stop advertising company, and branched into billboard advertising in soccer stadiums. He built it into what is believed to be Brazil’s largest sports marketing company, specializing in the rights to major international soccer tournaments.
He eventually expanded to the United States, where a subsidiary of his company, Traffic Sports USA, became a financially influential force in the North American Soccer League and bought one of its teams, the Carolina RailHawks, in 2010. Aaron Davidson, the president of Traffic Sports USA, became the chairman of the league.
But the team was sold five years later after the Justice Department revealed that Mr. Hawilla had pleaded guilty and Davidson had been indicted; Davidson pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and wire-fraud conspiracy and admitted to paying more than $14 million in bribes to soccer officials.
In March 2014, Mr. Hawilla recorded a conversation with Davidson in which they discussed whether a bribe to someone they referred to as Jeff had been paid; Davidson said that Jeff was angry because he had wanted more.
Mr. Hawilla leaves his wife, the former Eliani Maria Menezes; a daughter; two sons; a sister; and six grandchildren.
Arons, the lawyer, said Mr. Hawilla “was candid about the mistakes that he made working in the difficult arena of soccer, but was able to give back to the sport he loved by helping the US government with its investigation into soccer corruption.”