Baseball’s steroid scandal

Feds now zeroing in on Biogenesis

 
 
Anthony Bosch, founder of the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, which is suspected of providing Major League Baseball players, including Alex Rodriguez, with performance-enhancing drugs
Anthony Bosch, founder of the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, which is suspected of providing Major League Baseball players, including Alex Rodriguez, with performance-enhancing drugs

jbrown@MiamiHerald.com

A federal criminal probe is under way into whether the owner of a South Florida anti-aging clinic illegally sold controlled substances to high schoolers in addition to major league ballplayers and other professional athletes, the Miami Herald has learned.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami is scrambling to interview Porter Fischer, the whistleblower who holds 800 pages of the clinic’s records — some of which list clients’ names in code or aliases.

The move followed a story in the Miami Herald in which Fischer, Biogenesis’ former marketing director, challenged prosecutors to show some interest in the investigation.

In an interview with the Herald, he stressed that it wasn’t just professional ballplayers receiving steroids from Biogenesis and its founder, Anthony Bosch, but high school athletes as well.

Until now, only Major League Baseball had shown interest in the now-shuttered clinic’s records, offering Fischer as much as $125,000 for the files. Fischer declined, but Bosch was willing to make a trade — essentially selling MLB the names of cheating professional ballplayers in exchange for baseball’s help in shielding him against costly litigation.

It put Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner, in the awkward position of allying himself with an alleged drug dealer.

Now the federal government is upping the ante by taking an intense look at Bosch’s dealings. While MLB is after the players who doped, the feds would be interested in criminally pursuing Bosch as well as those who provided the drugs for his business.

According to an email obtained by the newspaper, the push was prompted by a Herald story published last week — and a January exposé in Miami New Times — in which Fischer said Bosch was injecting minors with steroid “concoctions.’’

The Coral Gables-based clinic — Biogenesis, and its precursor, Biochem — allegedly supplied steroids and other banned substances to at least 20 ballplayers, including New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, who is now fighting for his career. MLB plans to try to ban him from the sport for life, possibly by week’s end, sources said Wednesday.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined comment, but sources said Rodriguez was weighing whether to fight or to cut a deal to avoid banishment.

Meanwhile, Michelle Alvarez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an inquiry.

The criminal probe is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick Sullivan and Sharad Motiania, according to the email, which was obtained from a source close to the investigation. The source called it “an investigation into federal illegal substance violations,’’ and said that Motiania hoped to meet with Fischer as soon as Thursday.

The email also indicated that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was coordinating with other federal agencies, presumably the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. This year’s doping scandal caused a furor largely because of the high-profile major leaguers, but scant attention was paid to the drugs that were allegedly being supplied to high schoolers.

Last week, Fischer publicly chided law enforcement for failing to pursue the case after the state Department of Health investigated and fined Bosch just $5,000 for practicing medicine without a license.

MLB, by paying Bosch’s legal fees and promising to help put in a good word for him with criminal prosecutors, is sending the wrong message about cleaning up their sport, Fischer said.

“So baseball is basically saying ‘Hey mom, dad, don’t worry about your kid, he helped us out with our ballplayers so give him a break,’ Is that what you guys are going to do? Pay this guy? Let him off the hook? You should be running for the hills from this guy,’’ Fischer said.

But David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice, said even MLB can’t shield someone from a criminal prosecution.

“They are not law enforcement officers,’’ Weinstein said. “On the other hand they can certainly agree to provide legal funds for him, and it’s sort of a back-handed way of paying for the records.’’

Weinstein said what Bosch is alleged to have done is illegal under both state and federal law because all drugs, unless they are sold over the counter, are controlled substances. Steroids can be legally prescribed only by a licensed doctor and only for a legitimate medical reason — not for performance enhancement.

If the players knew they were obtaining controlled substances illegally, without a prescription or for reasons that were not medically necessary, they could be witnesses or subjects of the criminal probe, Weinstein said.

It’s unlikely, however, that Rodriguez — or other players — would be criminally prosecuted, even if they knew they were illegally buying steroids. The targets of the probe would be those who operated the clinic, he said.

MLB alleges that besides using performance-enhancing drugs, Rodriguez tried to undermine their probe by destroying evidence, an accusation he has denied.

Weinstein said federal investigations take time to develop and in this case, it could include a variety of avenues, including money laundering, medical fraud and malpractice.

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

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