Tribe denies link with Bush, prospective agent

Updated: April 26, 2006, 12:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SAN DIEGO -- A powerful Indian tribe said it had nothing to do with an attempt by one of its members to steer Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush to a newly formed marketing company.

The Sycuan Tribe said Tuesday it was approached last fall by tribal member Michael C. Michaels, who created New Era Sports & Entertainment LLC with his partner Lloyd Lake, a documented gang member now serving time in prison for a probation violation.

The two men reportedly attempted to compel Bush to sign with San Diego agent David Caravantes, who is certified to negotiate NFL contracts. Caravantes represents six players, none of them considered stars, according to NFL Players Association records.

Bush didn't sign with New Era Sports or Caravantes, who did not return phone messages and e-mails seeking comment Tuesday.

Bush's family lived in a house owned by Michaels for nearly a year. Several sources reported Sunday that the family moved out last weekend after questions over its ownership arose.

The Pac-10 said Sunday that it will investigate whether any NCAA rules were violated when Bush's family, including mother Denise Griffin, stepfather LaMar Griffin and brother Jovan Griffin lived in the house in the San Diego suburb of Spring Valley while Bush was still playing for Southern California last season.

NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes and their families from receiving extra benefits from agents or their representatives.

On Tuesday, a Pac-10 conference official confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the NCAA is working with the conference.

"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."

Also Tuesday, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that Bush has told USC officials he had no knowledge that his parents leased a house from Michaels. That echoed what Bush said Monday on ESPN.

"This has all been blown out of proportion due to my public image," Bush said at a press conference announcing his multi-year deal with adidas on Wednesday. "There is nothing to worry about. We've done nothing wrong."

"My pastor at church told me that what's going on now is similar to a horse race," Bush told ESPN.com. "The horses come out of the gate with blinders on. The reason they do this is so they don't get distracted. Well, that's how I am with this. I'm focused on what is ahead."

On Monday, Bush told ESPN that his "parents leased a house like any other parent."

Bush has spoken to USC faculty athletic representative Noel Ragsdale, according to the Daily News. Ragsdale will forward his information on to the Pac-10 Conference and the NCAA.

"How many 20-year-old kids know what their parents pay for rent?" Bush's current marketing advisor, Mike Ornstein, said Monday, according to the Daily News. "I have no idea what my mother pays for rent."

Sanctions for USC could include forfeiting victories and last season's conference title.

"The big issues are going to be No. 1, did he or his family receive any type of benefit that was motivated by his playing ability? They'll first go down that route," an NCAA source familiar with compliance issues told the Daily News. "He or his family cannot profit from his potential future.

"Any deal with an agent or for marketing later, if the benefits were given to his parents, would be a violation of amateurism rules."

Meanwhile, the Sycuan tribe continued to distance itself from the controversy.

"There was a request to become partners in this New Era Sports," said Adam Day, Sycuan's assistant tribal manager. "Both the tribal council and the development corporation board of directors refused to join into the business venture."

Michaels is an employee of the tribal development corporation. He did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

Also Tuesday, Day disputed unsworn court testimony in which Caravantes linked New Era Sports & Entertainment with Sycuan, which is located in eastern San Diego County and has annual revenue estimated at $250 million.

During a parole violation hearing earlier this year for Lake, Caravantes told the court that he and Lake "got together in October to start a new sports management company with Sycuan. Since October, Lloyd was a viable part of the company, helping recruit players, and in the process of merging this New Era Sports with Sycuan," according to an account that was confirmed by Lake's former attorney Marc X. Carlos.

"He was trying to help a friend who got sent to prison, and made inaccurate statements about his businesses relationship with us," Day said. "We are going to have our attorney look at statement and transcript to see what actions we can potentially take."

Michaels, who is also known as Michael Pettiford, was linked to Lake in a lengthy 2002 FBI affidavit filed in support of arrest warrants for Lake and other accused San Diego gang members. FBI agent Allan Vitkosky that Lake's "close relationship" with Michaels allowed Lake to tap a $10,000 line of credit with a quick phone call when he was running low on money at the casino.

Lake, 32, of El Cajon has a felony record that stretches back more than a decade. Police records identified him as one of 73 documented members of a street gang, according to the 2002 warrant. Lake has arrests and convictions for gun- and drug-related charges, and he is currently serving 12 months in a federal prison in Victorville for beating up his girlfriend while on probation for a drug-related charge.

Lake also started a San Diego-based rap music label, Breakbread Records, which received wire money transfers but never filed a tax return, Vitkosky wrote.

David Reyes, a financial and tax consultant, said he met with Michaels and Lake before they began courting Bush, and let Caravantes use his La Jolla office. New Era Sports used Reyes' office address on a brochure.

"I know for a fact they never met with Reggie," said Reyes, who advises pro athletes on how they can help minimize taxes on signing bonuses.

"Quite honestly, I was concerned from the beginning with this whole deal with Reggie, as far as getting him," Reyes said. "Most people felt he was going to be a No. 1 pick, and he was going with more of a known entity."

Reyes also said he wasn't aware of Michaels and Lake having any marketing experience.

"This was all from scratch," Reyes said. "They didn't have the credentials."

Sycuan has operated a casino for 24 years, but in the last 10 years has diversified beyond gaming. In 2000, Sycuan paid more than $1.5 million to become the title sponsor of the San Diego Padres' season. Sycuan has had other sponsorship deals with the Padres and invested in a hotel in the redevelopment zone surrounding Petco Park, the Padres' home.

Sycuan owns a resort that includes three golf courses, and promotes boxing matches.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report

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