UPDATE: Seven months after New Times published its investigation into Biogenesis and its founder, Tony Bosch, Major League Baseball suspended 14 players tied to the clinic. In August 2014, Bosch and nine other men tied to his steroid ring were charged with a variety of crimes in federal court. Bosch agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and plead guilty; he faces up to a decade in prison for illegally selling testosterone.
The headlines landed last Monday from Boston to Copenhagen to New York to London. Thirteen Major League Baseball players had been suspended, including the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, who was hit with a massive 211-game beatdown. It had all started with a January Miami New Times investigation into a tiny Coral Gables anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis.
Earth-shaking as the result was, though, it ain't over. Steroid-slinger Tony Bosch hasn't gotten his due. The faux doctor who ran Coral Gables' Biogenesis clinic had a client list that included more than a dozen young athletes from high schools, including Davie's University School.
Bosch has yet to face any criminal charges. In fact, a report obtained by New Times shows that he's twice dodged blowback from the state over his illegal drug operation — first in 2011, when a Florida Department of Health investigator cleared a complaint without even interviewing him and again this year, when the DOH hit him with a laughable $5,000 fine.
Meanwhile, MLB officials — with the aid of Miami-Dade County Judge Ronald Dresnick — are aggressively pursuing Biogenesis whistleblower Porter Fischer, demanding every document in his possession on the clinic and all his email correspondence with a New Times reporter.
There's no question that baseball has sent a strong message to its players and the public with the Biogenesis suspensions, but the owners shouldn't stop there. Despite record profits thanks to taxpayer-busting stadium deals like Miami's own Marlins Park abomination, they must change the way their sport is run.
"BALCO and Biogenesis will serve as bookends to the era of the steroid scandal," says Adrian Burgos, a University of Illinois history professor and author of Playing America's Game, which describes the role of race in baseball. "Biogenesis is certainly the scandal of [our era]. Yet Charles Comiskey has less blame on his hands with the Black Sox scandal... than what's happened today with owners of MLB teams profiting so much from public dole into private pockets during this era."
Bosch's blowup traces to last October, when Fischer, a 48-year-old investor and marketing manager at Biogenesis, stormed out with boxes of records after a dispute over $4,000. Fischer later shared some of those documents with New Times. They showed that Bosch, who didn't have a Florida medical license, wasn't just slinging 'roids, testosterone, and HGH to bodybuilders like Fischer. He was also selling drugs to MLB stars like Rodriguez, Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz, and former All Star MVP Melky Cabrera.
Days after the New Times story on the clinic landed this past January 31, MLB sent a team of investigators to South Florida to start building a case against Bosch and his clients. In June, faced with devastating financial pressure of an MLB civil suit, Bosch agreed to help Commissioner Bud Selig's team go after his former clients.
The results were stunning. The first domino to fall was Ryan Braun, the National League's 2011 MVP and a former star at the University of Miami. Braun, who'd dodged a failed drug test two years ago thanks to a technicality, took a 65-game suspension on July 22 rather than face Bosch's evidence before an arbitrator.
On August 5, 12 more big leaguers accepted similar deals, including the Rangers' Cruz, Philadelphia Phillies lockdown closer Antonio Bastardo, and promising young sluggers Everth Cabrera of the Seattle Mariners and Jordany Valdespin of the New York Mets. In all, 17 major and minor leaguers have now been suspended in the scandal — the single biggest drug-related suspension in American sports history. (Of course, the biggest target of all, A-Rod, refused to accept his suspension, formally appealing it three days after his penalty was announced on the grounds that it violates the players union's agreement with MLB.)
When BALCO rocked the sport nearly a decade ago, Selig was savaged by Congress over his lackadaisical reaction. This time around, the commissioner hailed the unprecedented penalties as "enormous progress" in the fight against PEDs. And it's true. Baseball's top dogs invested serious time and money to force Bosch's clients to face the music. "Compared to BALCO, the commissioners office had a completely opposite reaction this time around," Burgos says.
Yet, gratifying as it has been for fans to watch Biogenesis' massive fallout for the games' cheaters, the story has raised other troubling questions.
One is how Bosch got away with selling illegal drugs in plain sight for so long, even though his only degree came from a university in Belize that is not certified in the United States. Bosch and his father, Dr. Pedro Bosch, had been tied to PED sales in 2009, when Los Angeles Dodgers star Manny Ramirez was suspended after a failed drug test. (No charges were ever filed against either Bosch in that case.)
Even more troubling, a 2011 Florida DOH report shows serious lapses in judgment and procedure. Following an anonymous tip that Bosch was practicing medicine without a license while working with a business called BioKem (which operated in the same location where he'd later run Biogenesis), DOH opened a formal investigation.
Yet an investigator closed the case after four months, in October 2011, without once talking to Tony Bosch. Instead, the DOH interviewed his business partner, Carlos Acevedo, who promised that Bosch only ran a "marketing business."
DOH again opened a probe into Bosch's operation this past April following New Times' investigation. Fischer agreed to cooperate completely, and investigators later interviewed three other Biogenesis clients, who all testified that Bosch had represented himself as a doctor. Despite that mountain of evidence, the department again closed the case. This time, Bosch got a $5,000 fine and a cease-and-desist letter, but again, there were no criminal charges.
The latest revelations from Fischer's records could change that, though. New Times has found at least a dozen high school athletes listed in Bosch's handwritten business records, including a batch of nine listed on one page from a 2011 notebook. All include the notation "H.S." (high school) next to their entries.
Among those names were students from John A. Ferguson Senior High, West Broward High, and University School at Nova Southeastern University. New Times is withholding the names because most are minors.
The Miami Herald, which until last month had largely missed the Biogenesis story, interviewed Fischer in July. The whistleblower told them his records showed Bosch routinely selling drugs to high school athletes.
"This was never about professional ballplayers or stars — this was about criminal activity and injecting underage athletes," Fischer said of his reason for cooperating with the DOH probe. A week later, the Herald reported that two assistant U.S. attorneys in Miami had opened their own investigation into the fake doctor. And last week, the Florida High School Athletic Association announced plans to institute random testing next year in response to the reports.
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Then there is the farce playing out in a Miami-Dade courtroom. Last week, Circuit Court Judge Dresnick gave Fischer a month to turn over everything he has to MLB or face contempt-of-court charges. "Why am I being bullied like this?" Fischer asked of reporters after the hearing. "Major League Baseball is the bad guy here, not me. You wouldn't be here without me, and this is my cupcake? This is my thank you?"
It's a fair question. MLB, without a doubt, deserves credit for the suspensions handed down last week. For once, historic cheats like Braun and A-Rod were given punishments that fit their crime.
Yet it's hard to feel that justice is served when a whistleblower like Fischer faces mounting legal battles and a documented lawbreaker like Tony Bosch continues to walk free. Especially in a town where MLB has trampled over taxpayers and fans alike for decades.
"Jeffrey Loria benefited with a tax-free stadium built with public funds for private profit," says Burgos, the University of Illinois professor who grew up in Fort Lauderdale playing baseball. "A-Rod is a unique case, obviously, since he's signed contracts that will eventually earn him north of half a billion dollars. But on the other hand, Loria will basically walk away with that same amount thanks to this deal... and he's not going to die early because he abused PEDs to get there."