The owner of a luxury rental car company whose association with two standout University of Miami football players led to their dismissal also was involved in an upstart sports agency that never got off the ground, an apparent conflict that concerned UM administrators.
Juan “JC” Caballero, who owns South Beach Exotic Rentals on Miami Beach, also was president of MJ Sports International, which identified itself as “a Miami based sports agency that manages football, basketball, baseball players.”
But Caballero said Thursday that the company never launched.
“I never tried to be an agent,” he said. “I never even went to college. It was a website template that was purchased. It was not being marketed for the public to see. The idea was to build a concierge service that catered to athletes, actors. We wanted to build a high-end service that would do it all with one call, but it never went anywhere. It was just an idea.”
In its investigation that ultimately led to last Saturday’s dismissal of defensive end Al Quadin-Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace — after an earlier parting with linebacker Juwon Young — UM was aware that Caballero was involved with a fledgling sports agency at one point, according to a person with direct knowledge.
Those three players were UM’s three leading tacklers last season, and their loss was a blow to the Hurricanes, who open their season on Saturday against Florida A&M.
UM believed that Muhammad and Grace received free or heavily discounted luxury vehicles in exchange for agreeing to give Caballero a stake in their future earnings. That would be a violation of NCAA rules.
“When we first were notified about this [by UM], we thought there must have been a mix-up,” Caballero said last Saturday. “Therefore, we decided to cooperate and provide information that was requested. For example, the university noticed that Al-Quadin Muhammad was seen on Instagram in exotic cars after games. We provided them with the information — flight schedules, credit card receipts, insurance coverage, full payment — that Muhammad’s cousin, Jeff [Granger] was in fact the one renting the cars, as he has for many years.”
Caballero said Muhammad’s cousin “pays thousands of dollars in cash. What he does with that, he can do whatever he wants. I just don’t understand improper benefits.”
Caballero said he “also provided information that Jermaine Grace’s uncle rented a car for him at full price. [UM] continued to ask for information which was well-documented and provided.”
MJ Sports International hasn’t had any activity on its Facebook page in more than a year but previously posted photos of players including former Miami Southridge and free agent NFL safety Gerod Holliman, New Orleans Saints cornerback Brian Dixon and former Redskins and current Canadian Football League linebacker DyShawn Davis.
When we first were notified about this [by UM], we thought there must have been a mix-up. Therefore, we decided to cooperate and provide information that was requested. For example, the university noticed that Al-Quadin Muhammad was seen on Instagram in exotic cars after games. We provided them with the information — flight schedules, credit card receipts, insurance coverage, full payment — that Muhammad’s cousin, Jeff [Granger] was in fact the one renting the cars, as he has for many years.
Juan Caballero, South Beach Exotic Rentals owner
All three of those players are represented by Denver-based sports agent Peter Schaffer.
Schaffer, reached by phone Thursday, said he has known Caballero for several years and refers clients to Caballero’s company if they want to rent a car, but said he has no business relationship with Caballero and has never authorized MJ Sports International to use his name on its website or done any work for that company.
Unlike Schaffer, Caballero is not a certified NFL agent.
“We’re friends,” Caballero said of Schaffer. “I know him and his clients have rented from me in the past. That’s it.”
According to aiHit, a website database that lists company descriptions and executives, people identified as principles in MJ Sports International include Caballero, who is listed as president, and Mike Perez, who is identified as an NFL/NBA agent.
Perez owns another local car rental agency (Prime Exotic Rentals) that shares office space with Caballero’s company. Perez said he was an NBA agent at one time, with former Heat training-camp invite Khem Birch among his clients.
Also listed as an MJ employee was Virginia-based Steven Washington, who was the lawyer representing Grace before Grace changed attorneys earlier this week.
Also mentioned on the aiHIT description of MJ Sports International was Authentic Athletix, a Colorado-based sports agency owned by Schaffer, whose numerous NFL clients include Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.
“If my name or my company appeared on their website, maybe it was just somebody cutting and pasting what they would want their sports agency to represent,” Schaffer said, adding that he was not recruiting Muhammad or Grace.
In an interview with The Herald in July, Caballero said he did not know who Grace and Muhammad were and denied knowing any UM football players personally.
But in an interview with The Herald on Saturday, Caballero admitted knowing Grace since high school but said he did not give any free or discounted cars to UM players.
Caballero and Perez told The Herald last weekend that they would forward documentation to exonerate Grace and Muhammad but have not done so.
According to a source, Caballero initially was not as cooperative as UM would have liked and when he did return calls, UM did not believe he was being forthright. Grace and Muhammad were dismissed partly because UM concluded they took discounted or free cars, but also because UM believed they were not truthful when confronted about their association with South Beach Exotic Rentals.
“It’s not that they lied,” Caballero said Saturday. “Jermaine did lie [at first]. But Quan didn’t lie any of the time. He told them what it was — ‘my cousin rents cars and I go eat at Prime 112 and put pictures on my Instagram and I take pictures with cars to hook up with girls.’”
UM believes Muhammad and Grace took cars from Caballero at least once.
“But as far as these kids when we have the documents, the proper documents, they can’t prove [expletive],” Perez said. “And for them to give the kids the death penalty — or as harsh as they can go — to now have this image of this squeaky-clean program I view these kids as sacrificial lambs.”
It’s not that they lied. Jermaine did lie [at first]. But Quan didn’t lie any of the time. He told them what it was — ‘my cousin rents cars and I go eat at Prime 112 and put pictures on my Instagram and I take pictures with cars to hook up with girls.’
Juan Caballero, South Beach Exotic Rentals owner
Asked how much players spend for cars, Perez said: “We’re not talking about $1,000 bucks a day. We’re talking about $150, $200 a day for a Range Rover or $250 a day for a Mercedes 550. That’s not hard to come by.
“Yeah, Muhammad has higher-end cars. His cousin has higher-end money.”
Though no UM basketball players are being investigated for an association with Caballero or Perez, basketball player Kamari Murphy raised a red flag with the athletic department compliance office in March when he was photographed alongside an orange McLaren that had been rented from Perez’s company.
But Perez provided documentation to show that the car had been leased by a friend of Murphy’s who was visiting from New York.
According to a UM source, the compliance office and basketball coaching staff looked into the matter and determined that no rule had been broken. No other basketball players have been implicated.
Perez said he and Caballero expected only short suspensions for Muhammad and Grace.
“We never expected this to go this far,” Perez said.
But Caballero conceded: “For me as a company, it’s probably good. I get publicity out of it. Nobody is not going to say I’m not going to rent a car there because there’s some scandal with some UM kids.
“But [Grace’s and Muhammad’s] life is really going to change. Especially at the age they’re at — or what they’re going to do with their life. I’m sure in their head their life just ended.”
In an Instagram post on Thursday, Grace said: “I’ll be back really soon. God has a [plan] for me and it’s to finish my last season as a cane.”
But there was no indication that UM was planning to reverse Grace’s dismissal.