Thursday, January 25, 2007

Key tapes said to exist in Bush case

Source says tapes have Bush and his stepfather talking about cash and gifts. NCAA and Pac-10 officials will talk to New Era marketing figures.

Winding road

By David Wharton
Times Staff Writer

January 25, 2007

A would-be sports marketer involved in the Reggie Bush controversy has audiotapes of conversations with the former USC tailback and his stepfather talking about cash and gifts they received, according to a source close to the situation.

Bush and his family allegedly received the improper benefits from New Era Sports & Entertainment while he was still playing at USC.

The source, who declined to be identified because of a potential criminal case and civil litigation, said New Era co-founder Lloyd Lake recorded the conversations he had with Bush and his stepfather, LaMar Griffin.

David Cornwell, the attorney for Bush and his family, declined to comment on the alleged tapes, as did an attorney for New Era, Brian Watkins.

At the same time, Lake is the target of a federal probe into whether he tried to extort money from Bush.

"We are aware of an ongoing investigation into potential criminal conduct by Lake and others associated with him," Cornwell said. "We have and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice."

Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that the federal grand jury was looking into the tape-recorded conversations.

Bush has repeatedly stated that he and his family did nothing wrong.

The NCAA and Pacific 10 Conference are also investigating.

If the NCAA finds that Bush received improper benefits, it could deem him retroactively ineligible for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, which could cause USC to forfeit victories.

The Trojans won the Bowl Championship Series title in 2004 and lost in the championship game in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

The team's status as national champion in that first season would be decided by the BCS and the Associated Press, neither of which are governed by the NCAA.

In order to further sanction USC, the NCAA would have to show the football program either knew or should have known about alleged wrongdoings.

Bush's 2005 Heisman Trophy could also be in jeopardy.

Lake and New Era co-founder Michael Michaels have claimed they established New Era in partnership with Griffin starting in 2004.

Watkins has alleged that Griffin and Bush's mother, Denise, received cash from New Era and failed to pay rent while living in a San Diego-area house owned by Michaels.

A Yahoo! Sports story last September said that, in addition, New Era's founders paid for Bush to stay at hotels in Las Vegas and San Diego during 2005 and gave him approximately $13,000 to buy a 1996 Chevrolet Impala registered in his name.

New Era hoped to sign the Heisman winner as its first client. He ultimately chose well-known marketing agent Mike Ornstein and New Era never got off the ground.

Michaels and Lake plan to file a $3.2-million lawsuit against Bush and his family in February, Watkins said. In the meantime, Ornstein has become the focus of additional allegations.

Yahoo! Sports reported that when Bush's family traveled to Berkeley watch USC play California in November 2005, more than $800 in airfare and limousine costs were charged to the credit card of an Ornstein employee.

The report also quoted a former business associate of Ornstein alleging the Santa Monica-based agent was paying the family $1,500 a week.

Ornstein has denied making weekly payments and said any charges to his employee's credit card were repaid by Griffin.

Officials from the NCAA and Pac-10 say their probe has moved slowly because many of the principals have refused to be interviewed.

When Lake was recently released from prison, Angie Cretors, the NCAA's assistant director for Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities, called to arrange a meeting, Watkins said.

Watkins said his clients plan to speak to the NCAA and Pac-10 after the Super Bowl.

"The [New Orleans] Saints were doing so well, we didn't want to do anything while that was going on," Watkins said Tuesday, referring to Bush's current team, which lost last weekend.