By Helen Freund
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A federal judge in New Orleans rejected a plea deal on Thursday that would send former NFL player Darren Sharper to prison for roughly nine years, saying the sentence was too lenient for the drug and rape charges against him.
Sharper, 40, is accused of drugging and raping women in four states. As part of a series of plea agreements last year, he pleaded guilty or no contest to charges in Louisiana, Arizona, California and Nevada.
The plea bargains called for the five-time National Football League Pro Bowl safety to serve the 108-month prison sentences concurrently, followed by a lifetime of strict probation and parole requirements.
But U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo said she would not sign off on the proposed punishment because it did not reflect the seriousness of the allegations.
A federal probation report recommended a prison sentence of about 15 to 20 years, alleging that 16 victims had come forward with allegations against Sharper.
Milazzo said Sharper could withdraw his plea ahead of a March 3 hearing or face whatever sentence she handed him.
Sharper’s attorney, Billy Gibbens, told the judge his client, who was shackled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit for the hearing, did not wish to withdraw his plea immediately. Defense lawyers declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
Sharper pleaded guilty in New Orleans last May to three federal drug counts that alleged he and another man drugged women with the intent of raping them.
Milazzo had provisionally accepted the terms of the plea agreement pending the outcome of the federal probation report.
The retired football star also has pleaded guilty in Louisiana state court to drugging and raping three women in two incidents in New Orleans in 2013 while he was working as an NFL Network analyst but has not yet been sentenced.
Sharper played 14 years in the NFL, helping to lead the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory in 2010.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bernadette Baum)