Baseball

South Florida clinic operator says New York agents — now cleared — ‘all knew’ their players used steroids

Prominent New York agents Seth, left, and Sam Levinson have been exonerated in the baseball union’s investigation into a South Florida steroid clinic — but a convicted dealer says they “all knew” their players used banned substances.
Prominent New York agents Seth, left, and Sam Levinson have been exonerated in the baseball union’s investigation into a South Florida steroid clinic — but a convicted dealer says they “all knew” their players used banned substances.

Two powerful Major League Baseball agents have been cleared by a players’ union that investigated whether they knew several of their clients bought banned muscle-building drugs from the infamous South Florida clinic, Biogenesis of America.

The union’s investigators recently concluded that Seth and Sam Levinson did not know that a Fort Lauderdale-based contractor who worked for them was bringing ballplayers to the now-shuttered steroid clinic between 2010 and 2012.

The MLB Players Association, which certifies agents, said the union found “no evidence” that the brothers or any other principals in their New York sports agency, ACES Inc., violated regulations prohibiting the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“The Levinsons and all ACES certified agents remain in good standing,” the association’s general counsel, David Prouty, told the Miami Herald on Friday.

Agency founder Seth Levinson said in an email to the Miami Herald: “As the MLBPA correctly concluded after an extensive investigation, we were not involved in or aware of Biogenesis. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

“We have been advised that every player interviewed has stated that we had no involvement or knowledge of Biogenesis and their use of [PEDs].”

Throughout the investigation, the Levinsons repeatedly denied they ever met, spoke to or even heard of the Coral Gables clinic’s now-convicted founder, Anthony Bosch, or knew about Biogenesis. They maintained they learned about Bosch and his anti-aging clinic in January 2013, when a news story exposed him as a steroid dealer to Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and at least 10 other players who were under contract with the brothers’ sports agency, ACES.

But Bosch — who cooperated with Miami federal prosecutors and was sentenced to four years in the recently concluded Biogenesis criminal case — was not questioned by the players’ association investigators. His view of the Levinsons’ conduct starkly contradicts the conclusions of the union’s investigation run by Washington attorney Robert Muse.

Last year, Bosch told federal drug agents in the criminal case that the Levinson brothers “all knew” that several ballplayers with their Brooklyn-based agency purchased banned substances from his clinic, according to a Miami Herald review of his closed-door statements.

“They were in on it,” Bosch told Drug Enforcement Administration agents in May 2014.

Seth Levinson, who founded the ACES agency more than 25 years ago, accused the disgraced steroid dealer of lying.

“We’ve never met or spoken with Tony Bosch,” he told the Miami Herald. “There is no truth to anything that he says about us. Bosch is a convicted drug dealer who was staring at a long prison sentence and gave untruthful information in some misguided attempt to blame others.”

Of the 14 major- and minor-league players suspended in August 2013 by the MLB commissioner in the Biogenesis doping scandal, almost all of them — with the notable exception of Miami’s homegrown star, Rodriguez — have or had contracts with ACES.

The Levinsons came under the scrutiny of MLB investigators and the players’ association in 2012.

One of the brothers’ employees based in Fort Lauderdale was banned from baseball that year for his role in a drug-testing cover-up involving then-San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, a Biogenesis client at the time. Cabrera, who was under contract with ACES, received a 50-game suspension.

Former ACES contractor Juan Carlos Nuñez saw his status revoked as a “limited” MLB agent, which had allowed him to recruit players and handle their personal affairs but not represent them in salary negotiations.

Nuñez was also implicated the following year in the Biogenesis probe as a middleman who brought at least seven pro ballplayers to the clinic, according to Bosch. They were among the dozen players suspended for 50 games in 2013 stemming from their purchase of banned drugs from Bosch.

Bosch, Nuñez and six other defendants accused in the Biogenesis criminal case pleaded guilty to distribution-conspiracy charges or other lesser offenses. In March, Nuñez, 48, who lived in Fort Lauderdale with his family, was sentenced to three months in prison and three months of house arrest.

In a statement filed with his plea agreement, Nuñez admitted he told ballplayers from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela that he knew a Miami “doctor” who could make them “feel better and play better.” He steered them to Bosch, who passed himself off as a real physician, from November 2010 through June 2012.

Nuñez said that although he was not present, he knew Bosch injected players with testosterone to boost their performance — which could translate into bigger salaries for players and fatter commissions for Nuñez and his employer, ACES.

But Nuñez, like Bosch, was not questioned by the players’ association investigators.

The Levinson brothers have described Nuñez, a former travel agent who once lived in New York, as an independent contractor who worked for them from 2006 to 2012. He handled personal matters for ACES’ newly signed Spanish-speaking ballplayers, including transportation, housing and translating for them. But in the aftermath of the Cabrera cover-up and the Biogenesis scandal, the Levinson brothers publicly branded him as a rogue agent.

And so did the MLB union’s late executive director, Michael Weiner, who told The New York Times that Nuñez had played a central role in bringing the players to Bosch without the knowledge of his bosses.

“I think Nuñez is a snake,” Weiner told the Times in August 2013, before his death later that year. “What he did was horrible.”

But early last year — after MLB officials concluded their investigation of the Biogenesis case, ending with Rodriguez’s record 162-game suspension — the players’ association reopened the investigation into the Levinsons and their agency.

During interviews with DEA agents and federal prosecutors last year, Bosch portrayed Nuñez as being close to the Levinsons and in constant communication with them.

“Bosch said Nuñez, under the direction of Sam and Seth Levinson, introduced Bosch to seven of the suspended professional baseball players,” DEA agents wrote in a summary of the former clinic operator’s statements in April 2014.

Among those Nuñez brought to Bosch who were ACES clients: then-Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, then-Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, then-San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, then-New York Mets utilityman Jordany Valdespin, free agent Jordan Norberto, and minor-league players Cesar Puello, Fernando Martinez and Sergio Escalona.

Of those, Cruz, Valdespin and Puello gave statements to DEA agents last year, explaining how Nuñez introduced them to Bosch, who they thought was an actual doctor.

But Bosch told DEA agents that Nuñez communicated regularly with the Levinson brothers by cellphone and text messages about the ballplayers he brought to his clinic. Bosch said he overheard some of their conversations, and that Nuñez shared the content of some of their text messages with him.

At one point in the interviews with agents, they asked Bosch to verify a text message received from Nuñez in which the ACES contract agent said he had “lunch … with the Jewish guys.”

“This was a reference to Seth and Sam Levinson, the owner/operators of ACES,” the DEA agents wrote in their summary. “Bosch advised that the Levinsons both knew what was going on in regards to their clients receiving performance enhancing substances.”

Bosch said that on occasion, “Nuñez would relay [text] messages from Seth Levinson to Bosch,” such as: “Make sure Melkys [nickname for Cabrera] plays well today.”

But Bosch, who was a cooperating witness for MLB’s internal probe as well as the federal criminal investigation, sometimes appeared to get some of his facts twisted or wrong in his interviews with the DEA agents at their office in Weston, according to a Miami Herald review.

For example, Bosch said the Levinson brothers “were interested in [his] business,” the DEA summary said. Bosch said the brothers “went through” one of his Biogenesis clients, Max Gonzalez — the father of Hialeah baseball standout and Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez — “to approach [him].”

Bosch also said that the chief financial officer of Biogenesis, Ricardo Martinez, “dealt with them in regards to the business venture but a deal never was agreed upon,” according to the DEA summary of Bosch’s statements.

But a defense attorney for Martinez, who was not charged in the Biogenesis criminal case, said he and Bosch only spoke with Max Gonzalez about becoming an investor in Bosch’s clinic. The attorney also said Gonzalez did not play the role of broker between the Levinsons and Bosch.

Attorney Oscar J. Rodriguez said his client, Martinez, never spoke with the Levinsons or any of their agents about participating in any “business venture” with Bosch.

“That’s a complete fabrication,” Rodriguez told the Miami Herald.

Rodriguez added that Nuñez told Martinez he worked for the Levinson brothers, taking care of personal matters for their Hispanic players.

In another example, Bosch told DEA agents that after Melky Cabrera tested positive for testosterone during the 2012 baseball season, he convened a meeting with Miami attorney Chris Lyons, the Levinson brothers and Nuñez. Lyons had just successfully defended Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, a 2011 National League MVP and former star at the University of Miami, who tested positive for testosterone purchased from Biogenesis. (He would later be suspended for 65 games in 2013.)

In the summary of his statement last May to DEA agents, Bosch said that he “brought attorney Chris Lyons into an office meeting with the Levinson brothers with Nuñez on a telephone call.” Bosch said they discussed Nuñez’s proposal to help Cabrera beat the doping rap by creating a fictitious website for a topical cream that the ballplayer claimed inadvertently spiked his testosterone level.

“Lyons walked away from the proposal, saying it was a bad idea, which is what Bosch advised he did as well,” according to the DEA summary.

But Bosch’s recollection might either be off or wrong.

“I never participated in such a meeting with the Levinson brothers,” Lyons told the Miami Herald, declining further comment.

Neither Bosch’s attorney, Suzy Ribero-Ayala, nor Nuñez’s lawyer, Michael Matters, would comment for this story, citing attorney-client privilege and a protective order in the Biogenesis criminal case.

After Cabrera tested positive for banned substances, the MLB players’ association opened an investigation. Nuñez eventually took responsibility for creating the phony website. The union banned him from baseball, but only censured his bosses at ACES in October 2012 — just months before the Biogenesis scandal would erupt in Miami.

The Levinsons, who claimed to know nothing about Nuñez’s crazy scheme, were censured for failing to supervise him.

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