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Charges filed in baseball's Biogenesis steroid scandal

The leader of a ring that supplied steroids to some of the biggest names in baseball was arrested Tuesday along with six others. Among them: the cousin of Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez.

A year to the day after 13 professional ballplayers were suspended in the biggest doping scandal in baseball history, federal DEA agents arrested nine people, seven of them for being part of an illegal network that provided major leaguers with steroids and supplied performance-enhancing drugs to teenagers, both in the United States and the Dominican Republic.

Anthony "Tony" Bosch, 50, founder of the now-defunct Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables; Yuri Sucart, cousin of Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez; and Lazaro "Lazer" Collazo, a former University of Miami pitching coach, were among those charged in the PED case.

Collazo, who has operated baseball clinics and camps for young people for several decades, is accused of recruiting young baseball hopefuls for Bosch's clinic. Some 18 of them paid $240 to $600 for steroid concoctions, prosecutors said. The teenagers attended public and private schools in the United States and a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic.

The kids, ages 15-17, were never examined by licensed medical professionals in connection with the treatment they obtained from Bosch, authorities said.

"They advised youngsters that they could play better, recover from their injuries faster and have more energy,'' said U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer.

Others arrested include: Bosch associate Carlos Acevedo; Juan Carlos Nunez, a go-between with the players; and Jorge "Oggi" Velazquez, a Bosch supplier.

Bosch appeared in federal court in Miami, as did all the other defendants except Collazo, who was in the hospital after breaking up a dogfight. All of them posted bail.

Bosch has been cooperating with authorities and will enter a guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, according to court documents.

"By pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for his actions, Bosch will become a credible witness for the government in their larger investigation," said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein, who has followed the case.

Acevedo is also cooperating with authorities, and that likely led to the arrest of three others, including himself, in connection with a ring that distributed the club drug Molly. Carlos Luis Ruiz, identified as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, was also arrested in connection with that case, which appears unrelated to the PED case.

Bosch and his conspirators are alleged to have provided performance-enhancing drugs to everyone from coaches to courtroom judges to some of the most high-profile superstars in baseball, including Rodriguez, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, and former National League MVP Ryan Braun.

Rodriguez's attorney, Joe Tacopina, said Tuesday's arrests only reinforce the fact that his client did not commit a crime.

"It gives Alex peace of mind and puts an end to this entire sordid chapter,'' Tacopina said. He would not say whether Rodriguez helped with the federal case.

He said that Rodriguez has no relationship with Sucart and that there is no evidence that he acted as a mule or covered up any evidence to protect of Rodriguez.

"The government knows it's not true. If it was true, Alex would be charged with obstruction of justice,'' Tacopina said.

The charging documents do not identify the athletes by name, and none of them are accused of a crime. The Drug Enforcement Administration in South Florida and federal prosecutors, specifically Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael "Pat" Sullivan and Sharad Motiani, went after the drug suppliers, not the users.

Bosch, who was not a physician, posed as a doctor, calling himself "Dr. T,'' prosecutors said. He bought the steroids on the black market and then had doctors write the prescriptions, operating under several business names in South Florida.

"Let me make this clear, he is not a doctor, he is a drug dealer,'' said Mark R. Troubill, DEA special agent in Miami.

"The primary motive,'' Troubill said, "was greed.''

The athletes, both students and professional, were recruited by Collazo, a longtime Bosch associate and former UM pitching coach who has been involved in South Florida baseball circles for three decades, prosecutors alleged.

But the biggest name among the major league players tied to to the case is Rodriguez. Raised in Miami and selected out of high school as No. 1 in baseball's amateur draft, the New York Yankee third baseman was on a fast track to the Hall of Fame when he became mired in the scandal, a melodrama played out on the front and back pages of the city's tabloids.

He and 12 others were suspended on Aug. 5, 2013, following an investigation by MLB investigators — many of them former law enforcement officers who went to such great lengths to nail Rodriguez that they purchased evidence that police now say they knew was stolen.

Some of those investigators were subsequently fired by MLB.

Ultimately, Major League Baseball officials convinced Bosch to cooperate with them, and he turned over a cache of material, including emails exchanged with Rodriguez that confirmed he and other ballplayers were doping in violation of the players' labor contract.

In exchange, MLB promised to drop Bosch from a lawsuit it had filed against him and others connected to the clinic. Baseball also agreed to pay him and talk to federal prosecutors on his behalf.

But experts say it's not clear whether MLB had any influence over federal prosecutors. Bosch's plea deal theoretically means he could serve as many as 10 years, but he could also serve as few as three or four, after testifying against his co-conspirators, Weinstein said.

"Had he pled guilty to lesser charges, the perception at trial would have been that Major League Baseball had influenced the investigation," Weinstein said.

Rodriguez, 39, was baseball's highest paid player at the time of his suspension and remains so, although the ban cost him tens of millions of dollars. He is the career home run leader among active players, with a contract paying him $275 million over 10 years.

While the other suspended players accepted their 50-game bans, Rodriguez fought his 211-game suspension — lengthier because he was a repeat offender — until the end. He and his high-profile legal team claimed that MLB's "illegal and unethical" behavior — allegedly including intimidating and seducing witnesses and impersonating law officers — tainted their case.

Earlier this year, Rodriguez lost his arbitration battle and began serving his suspension.

Although Rodriguez previously admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2001-2003 when he played for the Texas Rangers, he has steadfastly denied that he bought banned substances from Bosch.

Rodriguez, however, did pay Bosch's former attorney a $25,000 retainer to defend him right after the scandal broke, the lawyer, Susy Ribero-Ayala, acknowledged, saying that Rodriguez also sent her another $50,000, which his then-lawyer said was a "mistake.'' Ribero-Ayala returned the second payment.

Rodriguez's name, however, was spelled out throughout Bosch's logs, along with the amounts he paid and types of substances he received, including HGH and testosterone cream troches.

Neither Rodriguez, nor his attorney, will comment on what substances, if any, he obtained from Bosch.

"Alex still has three more years left on his contract,'' Tacopina said. "He is in phenomenal shape. Will he ever hit 50 home runs again? That may be unrealistic for someone who is 39 years old. But he still has more records to set.''

The scandal broke in January 2013 when the Miami New Times published an expose that detailed how Bosch, through his unlicensed clinic, was secretly dealing steroids to ballplayers and other sports figures.

One of his employees, Porter Fischer, went to the newspaper with documents he had taken from the clinic, including client lists and the amounts they had paid for the drugs. Fischer, the clinic's former marketing director, wanted to get back at Bosch for stiffing him on a $4,000 loan.

Fischer's documents then became the focus of everyone's attention as MLB, the ballplayers, and even some of the drug suppliers tried to get their hands on them. At one point, MLB offered Fischer as much as $125,000 for records, but he refused.

Shortly thereafter, as Fischer made plans to transport the files to the state Department of Health, which investigates unlicensed health care facilities, his vehicle was broken into and the records stolen from his trunk.

In July 2013, the Miami Herald published a report that Bosch had also been providing minors with steroid "concoctions.'' Fischer, in an interview, said that 16- and 17-year-old high school players were getting injections at the Coral Gables clinic, a clear violation of the law.

Up until then, no one from law enforcement had interviewed Fischer about the clinic's activities, even though the case had received widespread international coverage.

After the Herald story, the feds convened a grand jury and subpoenaed Fischer and the balance of his Biogenesis files.

By then, MLB already had its hands on copies of the documents, allegedly paying $100,000 to a convicted bank robber who had acquired them illegally.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined to comment on the federal case Tuesday.

Boca Raton police, who were investigating the theft, eventually arrested the man.

Charges filed in baseball's Biogenesis steroid scandal 08/05/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 11:20pm]
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