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Player agents under investigation by MLB, MLBPA for facilitating steroid use

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Melky Cabrera, currently banned for a positive PED test, is represented by the Levinsons.  
Melky Cabrera, currently banned for a positive PED test, is represented by the Levinsons.    

Major League Baseball and MLB's players union are conducting dual investigations into the powerful Levinson brothers' ACES baseball agency. At issue is whether the Levinsons facilitated steroid use by their clients, either directly or by putting them in contact with known steroid dealer Kirk Radomski.

Noted federal steroid investigator Jeff Novitzky is said to be involved in the investigation of longtime agents Seth and Sam Levinson, lending an extra layer of seriousness. If any steroid facilitation by an agent is proved, that agent's certification to work in baseball is at issue. No major agent has ever been caught up in a steroid storm and been decertified. But the Levinsons are clearly under the microscope now.

MLB is said to be closely looking into whether the Brooklyn-based Levinsons, who represent recently suspended Melky Cabrera and received an unwanted mention at the Roger Clemens trial, have a real connection to Radomski or are the victims of a lot of bad luck in a short period of time. Radomski, the key witness in George Mitchell's MLB steroid investigation, is said to be back in touch with MLB.

Radomski, according to sources, has told others that he received client referrals from the Levinsons and at one time was so close to the brothers that he used to visit their Brooklyn office as often as twice a week. It isn’t known precisely what he is now telling MLB officials, and Radomski didn’t return a call or email from CBSSports.com.

An MLB spokesman and union official declined comment on the investigation.

Seth Levinson, the leader of ACES, issued a statement, saying, "The allegations against us have no merit and are utterly baseless.''

Levinson in his statement also disputed the allegations point by point.

The Levinsons, who have David Wright, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Shane Victorino, Josh Reddick and Scott Rolen among their many baseball clients, have retained noted criminal lawyer Howard Shapiro.

Three recent instances, allegedly tying the Levinsons to steroids, have caught MLB's attention and triggered investigations that could last weeks:

 Cabrera, a Levinson client, not only failed a test for synthetic testosterone but also was caught (along with Juan Nunez, who worked with the Levinsons) concocting a scheme to try to fool MLB by creating a fake website to create the impression he accidentally ingested the drug via a tainted supplement. The scheme was first reported by the <i>New York Daily News</i>.

 The Levinsons' name came up as having been cited by Roger Clemens' former trainer Brian McNamee in the Clemens perjury trial as the supplier of HGH to ex-reliever Mike Stanton.

 Ex-major league catcher Paul Lo Duca, a one-time ACES client, recently told an MLB investigator that he was set up by the Levinsons to receive PEDs from Radomski.

The Levinsons, who are known for their feisty and often combative nature though they’ve generally remained out of the headlines in nearly three decades as agents, have forged close relationships with key GMs and union leaders. One person close to the Levinsons maintained the Levinsons haven’t heard from MLB officials and also suggested the authority on this matter should rest with the union. In general, the union stance is that it has exclusive authority to regulate agents.

MLB and the union are expected to compare notes after their respective investigations. Any trouble for the Levinsons would represent a major predicament for the union, which sees as one of its major goals to aid players and support the agents who represent them.

Behind the scenes, current clients are said to be questioning the Levinsons about their alleged involvement. No client is known to have left them to this point, though other agents surely are eying the extensive client list.

"We've spent 27 years representing players with heart and integrity, and baseless accusations are certainly never going to stop us,'' Seth Levinson vowed in his statement.

Wright, who has employed the Levinsons since he was 18, told CBSSports.com he's been reassured by the Levinsons that they are innocent, and he believes them.

"I had a long conversation with them about it. Of course you want to be informed," said Wright, who is expected to have contract extension talks that could result in a nine-figure deal with the Mets. "I have all the faith and trust in the world in these guys. I've seen firsthand the integrity they have for the game."

The headlining incident came when Cabrera was suspended 50 games following a failed test, which was followed by the failed Internet hoax. The union made the original presentation to MLB on behalf of Cabrera and the Levinsons after the Levinsons promoted the bogus website claim to them. After MLB discovered the website story was a scam, the Levinsons explained that they were duped by their longtime worker, Nunez, into believing the website story.

The Levinsons have since told The New York Times that Nunez was not a full-fledged employee but only an independent contractor, although others say officially calling him a "contractor" may only have served tax purposes. Several team executives knew Nunez to be an active ACES employee who had recruited many Latin players for the agency over the years, and Nunez had an ACES email.

The Levinsons and Nunez, who since has been barred by MLB, continue to say Nunez acted alone in concocting the fake website to make it look like Cabrera's positive test was the result of the tainted supplement.

"Juan Nunez has acknowledged responsibility for the website. ... He has publicly stated that neither of us had anything whatsoever to do with the website,'' Seth Levinson said in his statement, adding, "The MLBPA (players union) itself said it has no evidence connecting us to the website.''

Lo Duca, whose involvement in baseball's ongoing Levinsons inquiry was first reported by USA Today, is said to have told MLB that a checking account for the purpose of buying PEDs from Radomski was set up for him by the Levinsons, and that in fact the checks he used bore the ACES name on it.

Lo Duca's checks are copied in the Mitchell Report, but the ACES name and all addresses were redacted from the document. A check with the ACES name made out to Radomski and signed by Lo Duca doesn't look good but isn't proof of the Levinsons' alleged involvement with Radomski. But Lo Duca's testimony does carry some weight, as he's seen as having little to gain by reminding folks he was in the Mitchell Report.

Lo Duca, who along with at least 10 other Levinson clients were named in the Mitchell Report, declined comment to CBSSports.com. Radomski insinuated he had ties to the Levinsons in a subsequent USA Today story, something the Levinsons denied to that paper.

The 2007 Mitchell Report didn't name the Levinsons or any other agent.

Novitzky, who has worked closely with MLB people in the past couple of years and was the key investigative figure in the government cases against Barry Bonds and Clemens, is thought to have become involved in the ACES investigation after McNamee's reference to the Levinsons. Stanton denied he received the drug from the Levinsons in an interview with The New York Times, which also reported that the Levinsons declined Clemens attorney Rusty Hardin's request to appear in court and impeach McNamee's testimony.

A person close to the Levinsons suggested they didn’t feel the need to get involved in what they believe were allegations not likely to be seen as credible. (Clemens was subsequently acquitted in the case.)

The involvement of Novitzky and the federal government strengthens baseball’s chances for the truth to surface via its subpoena power.

Radomski pleaded guilty to distributing drugs but avoided jail time partly by cooperating with Mitchell five years ago. If Radomski repeats his alleged assertions regarding his close previous association with the Levinsons to MLB, that would affirm Lo Duca's account and contradict the Levinsons claims of having no ties to Radomski.

Lo Duca had a falling out with the agents when he left them late in his career for a lesser-known agent. Shortly thereafter, stories began appearing in one New York tabloid unflattering about Lo Duca's personal life.

"They roughed him up pretty good," one baseball person said regarding the Levinsons' handling of Lo Duca after he made the decision to switch to another agent.

The Levinsons and Lo Duca have been in a recent dispute over what one person familiar with the situation said was $50,000 in fees.

"The claims that have been dredged up ... have been dredged up by Paul Lo Duca,’’ Seth Levinson wrote. “In addition to Mr. Lo Duca's other well-known issues, he has an axe to grind from when we filed a grievance against him for fees he owes us.''

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