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New Link in Bush Case

In court records from unrelated criminal case, lawyer cites claims of ties with sports agency group. NCAA joins Pac-10 in investigation.

April 26, 2006|David Wharton and Gary Klein | Times Staff Writers

New details emerged Tuesday suggesting that Reggie Bush's family had significant ties to -- and perhaps a business agreement with -- an aspiring sports marketer who hoped to sign the USC tailback as a client.

The relationship, laid out in court documents and interviews, has come under investigation because the family lived in a house owned by a New Era Sports & Entertainment executive during Bush's Heisman Trophy-winning football season.

Bush has characterized the situation as "blown out of proportion," saying that his parents were merely leasing the spacious suburban home in Spring Valley near San Diego.

But in transcripts from an unrelated criminal case, a lawyer for one of New Era's founding partners said: "Apparently, what happened is that Mr. Bush -- or through his associates -- had made some type of agreement with ... the sports agency group."

And, as New Era sought to form a partnership with the Sycuan Indian tribe, Bush's stepfather, LaMar Griffin, went to the reservation east of San Diego.

"He was extended the courtesy of a visit," Sycuan spokesman Adam Day said. "The tribe chose not to be a part of that company."

Neither Griffin nor his wife, Denise, could be reached for comment.

Bush, who enters this weekend's NFL draft as the probable No. 1 pick, would have been a valuable client for the fledgling company. He ultimately chose other representation.

Still, a Pacific 10 Conference official confirmed Tuesday that the NCAA has joined the conference in an investigation into Bush's connections with New Era.

If investigators discover the company allowed the Griffins to live rent-free or at a reduced rate during the 2005 football season, USC could face sanctions even if Bush and the school had no knowledge of the violations.

Those sanctions could include forfeiting some or all of the victories in a 12-1 season that saw the Trojans reach the bowl championship title game, where they lost to Texas.

"We're moving on it," said Ron Barker, the Pac-10's associate commissioner for enforcement. "We have made some progress and we'll go from there."

In other developments, it was learned that San Diego-based sports agent David Caravantes -- who minimized his connection to Bush and New Era in reported comments earlier this week -- previously told a judge that he was actively involved in the company. New Era also claimed to have met with USC tackle Winston Justice in San Diego.

The details come from court transcripts that shed more light on the little-known company.

It reportedly was founded last year by Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, a Sycuan member who also works for the tribe's development corporation.

Last March, Michaels purchased the Spring Valley house for $757,500, according to San Diego County property transfer records. LaMar and Denise Griffin, and their teenage son Jovan, moved in shortly thereafter.

They had previously lived in a town home several miles away. The new house was larger but hardly luxurious, part of a new tract across from older homes, its yard grown knee-high in weeds.

A neighbor said rents in the area are around $2,000 a month. The Griffins moved out earlier this month.

The court transcripts involved Lake, who previously had a previous drug-related conviction, said Marc Carlos, his attorney. Early this year, Lake was summoned back to court amid allegations of domestic abuse, a violation of his probation.

At hearings Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, Carlos and his client told the judge about New Era, saying the company had reached an agreement with Bush. Carlos said the company was considering a lawsuit over Bush's switching to other representation.

Neither Michaels nor Lake could be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Carlos pulled back somewhat from his courtroom statements, saying he was merely relaying claims made to him by Lake, who has since been returned to prison.

"My intent was to establish that New Era was a viable business and not a front for some illegal purpose," Carlos said. "There may have been tentative agreements [with Bush] or maybe they were in progress. That's for someone else to figure out."

NCAA investigators are expected to pay particular attention to whether such an agreement existed while Bush was still playing last season.

Caravantes, the agent, appeared at the February hearing on Lake's behalf, telling the judge: "Lloyd and I had got together in October to start a new sports management firm with Sycuan, the Indian resort. And since then, Lloyd and myself, and some members of Sycuan and others, have put together a company."

Lake's sister, Lisa, a San Diego television news anchor, also was mentioned in court as part of the business. She could not be reached for comment.

Sycuan tribe officials reiterated Tuesday that they chose not to partner with New Era.

Justice did not return phone calls, but the transcripts prompted a sharp reaction from his agent, Gary Uberstine, who also represents USC Coach Pete Carroll.

"He didn't do anything with them," Uberstine said of Justice's purported meeting with New Era. "He hooked up with Reggie and, if he was in a group of people that he didn't know, maybe they were there."

David Cornwell, the attorney for Bush and his family, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, it remained to be seen if the controversy would affect Bush's draft status. The Houston Texans have the first pick Saturday and had not revealed their intentions.

"At this point in time, we're not aware of anything that Reggie might have done that was improper," team owner Bob McNair said in a telephone interview. "The allegations concern his parents."

McNair said that while the situation raises questions, "our concern is with the behavior of the player we're drafting. As long as his behavior is satisfactory, we can't expect him to control every member of his family."

Times staff writers Dan Arritt and Tony Perry contributed to this report from San Diego.

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