An eight-month Yahoo! Sports investigation has revealed that Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush and his family appear to have accepted financial benefits worth more than $100,000 from marketing agents while Bush was playing at the University of Southern California.
The benefits, which could lead to NCAA sanctions for USC and retroactively cost Bush his college eligibility and Heisman, were supplied by two groups attempting to woo Bush as a client. Current Bush marketing agent Mike Ornstein and one of Ornstein’s employees were involved. So were Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake, who attempted to launch an agency called New Era Sports & Entertainment, pursuing Bush as their first client.
Bush declined comment to Yahoo! Sports, and Ornstein denied any wrongdoing on his and Bush’s behalf.
But documents and on-the-record interviews with sources close to the situation reveal that Bush and his family appear to have received financial benefits from Ornstein and a business associate. Those benefits include:
$595.20 in round-trip airfare from San Diego to Oakland in November 2005 for Bush’s stepfather, LaMar Griffin, his mother, Denise Griffin and younger brother to attend the USC-California game at Berkeley. The fees were charged to the credit card of Jamie Fritz, an employee of Ornstein. The document detailing the charges was provided by Lee Pfeifer, an estranged business associate of Ornstein’s. $250.65 for limousine transportation from the Oakland airport to the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco that November weekend for the Bush family, charged to Fritz, according to a document. Ornstein acknowledged both he and Bush’s family stayed at the luxury hotel. Additionally, New Jersey memorabilia dealer Bob DeMartino alleges that Ornstein provided:
Suits for Bush’s stepfather and brother to wear during the Dec. 10, 2005 Heisman ceremony in New York, a makeover for his mother for the event and limousine transportation; Weekly payments of at least $1,500 to the Bush family. Documents and multiple sources also link Bush and his family to receiving benefits from New Era’s financial backers, including:
$623.63 for a hotel stay by Bush at the Venetian Resort & Casino in Las Vegas from March 11-13, 2005, charged to Michaels, according to a document signed by Bush. $1,574.86 for a stay by Bush at the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego from March 4-6, 2005, paid for by Michaels, according to a hotel document, a hotel employee and a source. Approximately $13,000 to Bush from New Era to purchase and modify a car, three sources said. As reported by Yahoo! Sports in April, $54,000 in rent-free living for a year at Michaels’ $757,500 home in Spring Valley, Calif., according to Michaels and San Diego attorney Brian Watkins. Also from previous Yahoo! reports, $28,000 from Michaels to help Bush’s family settle pre-existing debt, according to Michaels and Watkins. Thousands of dollars in spending money to both Bush and his family from the prospective agents, according to multiple sources. Approached about the financial ties on Sept. 7, Bush politely dismissed a Yahoo! Sports reporter.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, three days before making his NFL debut with the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.
Meanwhile, Ornstein denied giving Bush or his family benefits, calling the accusation of cash payments a lie. Ornstein described travel arrangements made by Fritz as loans that were paid back by the Bush family.
“Reggie Bush never received an extra benefit from Mike Ornstein other than what he was allowed to get from the NCAA when he worked with us,” Ornstein said, referring to the fact that Bush was an intern at Ornstein’s marketing company in the summer of 2005. “I feel pretty damn good about that.”
Asked why his employee, Fritz, had paid for airfare and a limousine for the Bush family’s trip to the Cal game, Ornstein said he believed the funds were paid back.
“Jamie may have paid or put it on his credit card,” Ornstein said. “I don’t think (Reggie’s) parents have a credit card, but his parents paid for everything.”
Fritz declined comment, but documents obtained by Yahoo! Sports indicate both the airfare and limousine rental for the trip to the Bay Area were paid in full on Fritz’s American Express card prior to the trip being taken. Ornstein also used the card in August to book his own trip to Bush’s NFL preseason debut against the Tennessee Titans.
The card establishes a direct link between Bush’s family and Ornstein’s office while Bush was still at USC, but Ornstein insisted it was merely a matter of helping the family.
“If the dad asked, then maybe (Jamie helped),” he said. “The (family) went on other trips. I’m sure the father – if it was anything that needed a credit card to guarantee the hotel and everything – then I’m sure Jamie will have documentation and cash receipts from the father. I guarantee it.”
Asked whether he was aware that such loans could constitute an NCAA violation, Ornstein replied: “I have no idea.”
NCAA by-law 22.214.171.124 states that an athlete shall be deemed ineligible if he or she accepts benefits from agents or marketing representatives. The rule further states that student-athletes, their family or friends cannot receive benefits or loans from agents. Additionally, NCAA by-law 126.96.36.199.6 states that athletes cannot receive preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation.
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