MLB Suit Says Florida Lab Helped Players Get Banned Drugs

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig sued a now-shuttered Florida clinic for allegedly helping players get banned performance-enhancing drugs and damaging the sport’s reputation.

The commissioner filed a complaint against Biogenesis of America LLC and people it claimed are associated with the business in state court in Miami today, saying they induced players to violate contractual obligations.

“Each of the defendants participated in a scheme to solicit major league players to purchase or obtain, and/or to sell, supply or otherwise make available to major league players, substances that the defendants knew were prohibited under MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program,” according to the 14-page complaint.

Individual defendants named in the complaint include Biogenesis program director Anthony Bosch, who is accused of providing players with testosterone, human growth hormone and human chorionic gonadotropin, which he allegedly claimed would increase their strength and help them recover from injuries.

No players are named as defendants in the lawsuit, although the Coral Gables-based clinic is accused specifically of supplying a banned substance to Manny Ramirez, a former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Ramirez, who received a 50-game drug suspension in 2009, no longer plays for a Major League Baseball team.

Bosch’s lawyer, Susy Ribero-Ayala, said in a phone interview today that she hadn’t seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on it.

Medical Records

The Miami New Times in January reported that it had obtained medical records from Biogenesis that linked banned substances to current players including New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player. ESPN later published a report that linked Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, to the clinic.

Rodriguez and Braun have denied the reports, and no MLB players have been disciplined for a connection to the clinic. The New York Times reported today that “several” people associated with the clinic were cooperating with baseball’s investigators.

“It really shows a paradigm shift,” sports law attorney and former player agent Gregg Clifton said today in a telephone interview. He is managing partner of the Phoenix office of Jackson Lewis LLP, a New York-based employment law firm.

‘End User’

“Traditionally all leagues have attempted to cut the use of performance-enhancing substances at the end-user phase, by creating penalties,” Clifton said. “This is the first step by any professional sports league that I’m aware of where they’re shifting the paradigm. They’re going after the source.”

After former U.S.senator George Mitchell of Maine in 2007 released a report outlining drug use by 89 players, MLB created a department of investigations to better police the sport.

Lacking subpoena power, baseball and its investigators struggled to discipline players who may have been using banned substances absent proof such as witness testimony or a positive test result, Clifton said.

That struggle played out in the investigations of two of the sport’s most famous alleged drug users, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Both Clemens, named in the Mitchell Report, and Bonds, accused in connection with a San Francisco-area lab, were prosecuted in court after denying under oath that they used performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds, Clemens

A seven-time National League MVP, Bonds was indicted on five charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and in 2011 was convicted of just one count of obstruction of justice. His appeal is pending.

Clemens, an 11-time All Star and seven-time Cy Young Award winner, was indicted on six felony counts, including perjury and obstruction of Congress. His initial proceedings ended in a mistrial and last year he was found not guilty.

Selig’s suit represents an effort to use the legal process to compel the production of evidence, Clifton said.

“The challenge will be whether or not they can continue the suit and keep it going long enough,” to obtain what they seek while avoiding a potential dismissal by the court, he said.

That proof, once obtained, could be usable in disciplinary proceedings against players even if the case against Biogenesis and the individual defendants is thrown out,, said Clifton.

The case is Office of the Commissioner of Baseball v. Biogenesis of America LLC, 13-10479CA20, Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Florida, 11th Judicial Circuit (Miami).

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