Crime

Former UM assistant baseball coach hopes to resume career after steroid plea deal

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Former University of Miami assistant baseball coach Lazaro “Lazer” Collazo has survived serious setbacks to the career he loves.

But nothing threatened to end it like his arrest last August on felony charges of collaborating with a fake Coral Gables doctor to distribute muscle-building steroids to South Florida high school athletes.

Anti-aging clinic owner Anthony Bosch, aka “Doctor T,” accused Collazo of conspiring with him to distribute testosterone and other steroids to “many” youths — at least 18 — from the facility, Biogenesis of America. After months of fighting the allegation, Collazo pleaded guilty Monday to much-reduced misdemeanor charges of buying steroids without a valid prescription for his own use from Bosch’s business partner, Carlos Acevedo.

Both Collazo’s defense attorney, Frank Quintero, and federal prosecutors Pat Sullivan and Sharad Motiani agreed to a deal that recommended a two-year probationary sentence for the coach’s two purchases of steroids in 2013. U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga accepted the lenient terms on the two misdemeanor convictions, fined Collazo $2,000 and ordered him to serve 150 hours of community service.

During the hearing, Collazo apologized to the judge, his family and others, saying “how ashamed and embarrassed” he was for buying and using testosterone. Outside the courtroom, he told the Miami Herald how relieved he was that the prosecutors agreed to remove the “taint” of the initial distribution charges, which would have ruined his career.

“I had nothing to do with the kids going to this place or enticing the kids to go to this place — not one, not two, not any,” Collazo, 51, said, adding that he hopes to return to coaching high school or college baseball in a year. “Hopefully, everything will work out.”

Collazo became the seventh defendant to plead guilty in the steroid case centered around Bosch, the prosecution’s star witness, and his former clinic, Biogenesis. The clinic, which took center stage in a Major League Baseball doping scandal, supplied numerous pro ballplayers with steroids — leading to the long suspensions of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and 13 others.

Collazo played no role in that part of the criminal case, which still includes one defendant, Rodriguez’s former personal assistant, Yuri Sucart, facing trial in April.

Collazo came to know Bosch as a patient, believing he was an actual physician. According to court papers, he went on a regimen of hormone replacement therapy to boost his energy, focus and libido. After he was charged, Collazo insisted that he “referred” a few parents to Bosch as a sports doctor but never “recruited” any of their children, as he was accused.

In a factual statement filed with his plea agreement, Collazo admitted that he bought testosterone on two occasions in April and June of 2013 from Acevedo, who by then had parted ways with Bosch after Biogenesis closed in late 2012. Acevedo got caught on a Drug Enforcement Administration recording of his cell phone during the second transaction, when he sold Collazo a vial of testosterone in a Publix parking lot in the Brickell area.

Collazo’s defense attorney, Quintero, said in court that his client made a “horrible error in judgment” to buy and use the steroids. But his legal team gathered strong evidence to refute the more serious distribution allegation, resulting in Collazo’s “compromise” plea deal. Quintero thanked his legal team, attorneys Juan Broche and Alejandro Gonzalez, as well as the prosecutors for keeping an “open line of communication” throughout the case.

In the run-up to his plea and sentencing hearing, Collazo and his lawyer filed numerous letters that they say reflect the kind of man he was before he got into deep trouble: “coach, role model and disciplinarian.”

“My father passed away during my sophomore year of high school, and without Lazer as my pitching coach, my advocate and my friend, I can definitively say I would never have reached such levels of success both personally and professionally without him,” Juan D. Arteaga, UM’s current pitching coach, wrote in a letter of support for his former coach.

“Lazer wants the best for those around him,” he added. “I trust him with my 13-year-old son.”

Collazo, a former pitcher on UM’s 1985 national championship baseball team, joined the university’s coaching staff three years later, developing a reputation as a go-to pitching guru. In 1993, he also founded Hardball Baseball Academy, which trains and coaches youth traveling teams, and later coached Gulliver Prep’s baseball team.

Collazo had a small role on UM's championship team, pitching 9 2/3 innings over eight games. But Ron Fraser, the iconic UM coach who died in 2013, saw potential in Collazo, and hired him as an assistant coach.

Collazo spent 17 seasons as UM's pitching coach, his tenure interrupted only by a one-year stint on Florida State's coaching staff in 1992.

But Collazo's UM career began to unravel in 1999 when an anonymous source contacted the athletic department regarding a sports club/conditioning program co-owned by Collazo.

UM began an investigation that determined the sports club had allowed high school prospects to use athletic department training facilities and participate in activities that demonstrated their athletic abilities. Both violated NCAA rules.

Those and other violations — including giving boat rides to recruits on Biscayne Bay — resulted in UM's baseball program being placed on probation for two years and the loss of four scholarships.

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