MLB players told feds about connections to Biogenesis, Bosch

Illustration by ESPN

When superstar athletes and drug-dealing associates signed up Tony Bosch as their performance-enhancement-drugs connection a decade ago, Bosch and his new clients and partners reached a streetwise understanding: No matter what, keep your mouth shut.

Bosch swore he was "not a rat" and "would not break" if approached by anyone. The players and dealers said the same.

The bold promises ended up being empty, throwaway lines.

As a federal investigation into the largest performance-enhancing-drugs operation in American sports history played out over 21 months from late 2012 to 2014, the South Florida clinic operator and his clients and dealers squealed on each other and Major League Baseball players behind closed doors with federal authorities, according to more than 1,400 pages of confidential, investigative documents obtained by ESPN.

During a May 30, 2014, interview with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorney's Office authorities alone, Bosch attached himself to at least 28 current or former players, several of whom had never previously been linked to the Biogenesis of America clinic scandal -- All-Stars, MVPs and even down-the-road Hall of Fame candidates. Players such as Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Cervelli and Melky Cabrera dropped the names of their connections. One of Bosch's former partners turned into a confidential source during the investigation.

Little was spared in the interviews; for example, Bosch told investigators that sports agents Sam and Seth Levinson, founders of the ACES sports agency, had knowledge that many of their players used him for doping protocols. "They all knew. They were in on it," Bosch told investigators of the Brooklyn-based agents.

Separate documents obtained by ESPN show that the Levinsons wrote the Major League Baseball Players Association an email in 2012 and named 29 players as being clients of one of Bosch's associates, Juan Carlos Nunez. Twelve of the players named by the Levinsons would ultimately receive MLB suspensions, but it's unclear what role the email played in that, if any. Nunez admitted in court in 2014 that he brought professional Latin ballplayers to Bosch's operation and was convicted of dealing PEDs.

The same email from the Levinsons also noted that it was current New York Yankees senior adviser Omar Minaya, then the New York Mets general manager and later an MLBPA executive, who introduced the Levinsons to Nunez: "It is important that you know how Juan came to be associated with us ... Omar Minaya who was the NY Mets General Manager at the time recommended him," the Levinsons wrote to then-MLBPA general counsel Dave Prouty. Minaya was hired by the union in 2015 as a senior adviser to its leader, former player Tony Clark, and later was employed by Major League Baseball as an amateur scouting consultant.

Minaya took exception to the Levinsons' portrayal, telling ESPN: "The Levinsons reached out to me and asked me about him. And we all knew him because he was well known in the community, especially Washington Heights [a New York neighborhood home to a vibrant Latin American community]. At the time, he had a travel agency and a lot of players used him. ... But to say I gave him a full recommendation, no. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't recommend him to them.''

The Levinsons declined comment for this story.

In the wake of the Biogenesis investigation, an outside investigator retained by the Major League Baseball Players Association found no evidence that either of the Levinson brothers participated in or had knowledge of the supplying of banned drugs to players. Their agency was, however, censured for not adequately supervising Nunez, though it maintained certification.

Bosch, 59, pleaded guilty in October 2014 to conspiracy to distribute testosterone and was one of eight people convicted in the federal investigation.

The trove of documents obtained by ESPN include federal investigators' unredacted notes from interviews conducted with a dozen professional athletes, other Biogenesis patients and employees, and confidential sources, as well as briefs from surveillance operations and executed search warrants.

Witnesses who give interviews to federal agents conducting such investigations do not typically do so under oath -- and Bosch and others were not under oath in the interviews -- but the witnesses and targets risk prosecution if they do not tell the truth.

At least 10 professional baseball players were interviewed by DEA agents and Miami-based assistant U.S. attorneys during the Biogenesis investigation. Many of the athletes, such as Alex Rodriguez, were granted immunity from prosecution. The focus of the nearly two-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Strikeout" by agents, was the clinic operators and drug distributors. The only sports angle pursued by investigators was the larger, more widely publicized ties to Major League Baseball players. As in most federal drug cases, people who may or may not have used drugs or substances were not criminally charged, though the baseball players' involvement led to league-levied suspensions.

Nelson Cruz told federal authorities that Bosch saved his career. Yasmani Grandal told them he simply wanted to "look the part" after working out so hard with little to show for it. Francisco Cervelli sought out Bosch because he was "desperate" to save his New York Yankees career.

A-Rod, who was interviewed by DEA agents on Jan. 29, 2014, told authorities Bosch spoke to him about having "treated hundreds of baseball players."

Bosch told federal authorities that before the Biogenesis scandal broke in 2012, he was "very close" to supplying performance-enhancing substances to Robinson Cano, an All-Star second baseman and then a Yankees teammate of Alex Rodriguez. ESPN in 2013 reported that the spokesperson for Cano's charitable foundation and her boyfriend were Biogenesis customers. Bosch told ESPN that Rodriguez and his cousin, 61-year-old Yuri Sucart Sr. -- A-Rod's longtime personal assistant and conduit to at least a handful of MLB players supplied by Bosch -- proved influential in the budding Cano connection. There is no additional mention of Cano in documents, nor does it appear he was interviewed by investigators.

Cano has twice been suspended after positive tests: 80 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2018 for furosemide, a diuretic sometimes used to hide the presence of other banned substances; followed by a suspension for the entire 2021 season with the New York Mets for stanozolol, a muscle-building anabolic steroid that is known to be easily detected.

As for telling the agents he was close to striking a deal with Cano, Bosch told ESPN he got a call in late 2012 from Sucart, saying, "Robinson ... ready to go." Not long after, Bosch said, "Then, the s--- hit the fan" about Biogenesis.

A source close to the MLB probe, however, said baseball investigators never uncovered evidence linking Cano to Bosch, adding: "Not a sliver, nothing."

Cano and his current agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, declined comment for this story.

Nelson Cruz, on the other hand, told his story to federal investigators.

Sitting in a Baltimore hotel in June 2014, then only 33, the powerful slugger told federal authorities he felt a shadow of himself, "mentally out of touch," and fretting over the possible loss of his big league career, when he connected with Bosch before the 2012 season. Cruz claimed to have contracted a parasite and dropped 40 pounds. He traveled to Florida from the Dominican Republic after doctors offered no answers. Ultimately, Juan Carlos Nunez, who handled baseball needs on behalf of ACES sports agency, phoned his go-to specialist, Bosch.

Nunez couldn't believe his eyes when Nelson landed in South Florida with his wife and mother. "I saw this guy 35, 40 pounds less,'' he recently told ESPN. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.'''

Nunez said Cruz spent more than a week in a Fort Lauderdale area hospital, where he was diagnosed with and treated for H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori), a bacteria that infects the stomach. Cruz holed up in a luxury apartment north of Miami Beach recuperating. Then, with spring training on the horizon, Nunez placed a call to Bosch.

"So, he's got to get ready,'' Nunez recently told ESPN.

Nunez assumed Bosch was a licensed doctor, recalling he "always carried himself as if he was a doctor.'' Nunez told of taking his wife to the office for a consultation. Paying $300.

"If you go to a medical office and you see somebody dressed as a doctor, and he has girls in these blue outfits pretending to be nurses and there [are] some certificates hanging on the wall, you're not going to go there saying, 'Listen, I need to verify that you're a doctor,''' Nunez told ESPN.

And Cruz needed what Dr. T offered.

Cruz, who has slugged more home runs than any other MLB player since 2013, described himself as having been mentally "out of touch'' and fearful his "career might be over,'' according to a federal summary report from the interview. Cruz, under a grant of immunity from prosecution, suggested he thought he was "going to die'' because he had lost so much weight.

Bosch stuck him with the nickname "Mohamed,'' then went about fattening him up with a doping protocol heavy on testosterone and human growth hormone -- protocols driven by injections in the stomach and buttocks, daytime and nighttime creams, and red troches/gummies Cruz had been told to consume 15 minutes before the first pitch of each game.

Cruz told authorities of being advised by Bosch, as relayed by Nunez, to avoid getting the creams on his wife and children.

Cruz did not respond to messages ESPN left with his agent, Bryce Dixon.

However, Cruz told federal authorities he was never informed about what he was using, and never asked, either.

Nunez, an associate of the agency representing Cruz, showed him how to inject the smaller syringes in his stomach. Bosch attempted to show him how to inject the larger syringe in buttocks, but Cruz told authorities he already knew, having previously injected B vitamins himself multiple times.

Bosch visited Cruz again in Florida that offseason. He saw him in Arizona during spring training. He said he saw him again during the 2012 season while in the Bay Area to check on another client, then-San Francisco Giant Melky Cabrera.

According to documents, Cruz paid $4,000 a month for the protocols. But rather than pay Bosch directly, money was wired to Nunez through an account in the name of Cruz's wife.

Cruz told authorities that after the 2008 season, his career at a crossroads, he hired a Japanese agent with the intent of playing in Japan. He said Nunez convinced him instead to sign with ACES, the agency headed by the Levinsons, and to continue his career in the States.

In interviews with ESPN and federal authorities, Bosch spoke highly of Cruz, saying the veteran designated hitter was the "most decent guy and the most educated of the bunch.''

Just before losing the weight and hiring Bosch, Cruz had been named MVP of the 2011 American League Championship Series as he led the Texas Rangers to the World Series. Cruz, who was still under contract with the Rangers, told federal agents he didn't want to return to the team the following spring looking gaunt, and he considered playing a season or more in Japan until he regained his weight and appearance -- though such a move may have been contractually difficult. Cruz said it wasn't until the 2014 season and with the Baltimore Orioles that he returned to his normal playing weight of 240 pounds.

Cruz told federal agents he stopped following Bosch's protocols during the 2012 season because his stats were down, though his numbers nearly mirrored those from the 2011 season. After fellow Bosch client Melky Cabrera tested positive in May 2012, Cruz told authorities he threw his remaining drugs in the trash.

During his interview with authorities, Cruz said Bosch offered tips that had helped him avoid a positive drug test. Cruz, though, was ultimately suspended 50 games in August 2013 by Major League Baseball after his name surfaced in Biogenesis clinic records, which consisted mostly of Bosch's neatly written notations in composition notebooks.

Cruz, now 43, was long one of the game's statesmen and most respected power hitters, belting 464 home runs over 19 seasons. He served as both designated hitter and general manager for the Dominican Republic team in this year's World Baseball Classic.

After his suspension, he played on a four-year, $57 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, earned an additional $31 million over three seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays, and made $15 million last season with the Washington Nationals. He played on a $1 million deal this season with the San Diego Padres before being released in early July.

Bosch was one of eight people convicted in the federal investigation. Bosch was sentenced to four years in federal prison but was released in late 2016 on parole and got off probation in October 2019. From 2008 to 2013, he falsely claimed to be a licensed medical doctor and accepted thousands of dollars a month to provide injections, PED-laced dissolvable gummies, testosterone creams and pills to a varied client list that included not only professional athletes from a range of sports but also actors, models, college players, adult film actors and even high school athletes.

While multiple baseball players were interviewed by federal authorities, no athletes were ever the target of the federal probe.

"Our focus was on the distributors and the suppliers of the drugs," Mark Trouville, DEA special agent in charge of the Florida office during the Biogenesis investigation, told ESPN. "So the fact there were professional ballplayers involved, we want to treat everybody the same. It wasn't like we were going to go after a particular ballplayer because we had reason to believe they were using steroids. That wasn't the focus of our investigation."

Federal authorities declined to characterize Bosch's statements specifically but did say overall, they found him to be truthful in his interviews.

"He was a credible witness in our investigation," said Sharad Motiani, an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida's Southern District who sat in on many of the interviews with Bosch, his associates and many of the MLB players who met with authorities. "We were able to even test his credibility because we had records in our possession. We had records from his clinics that corroborated things that he said. ... So, in the end, we found him to be a credible witness."

The government ultimately filed a successful motion with the court seeking a sentence reduction based on Bosch's cooperation.

Bosch told federal agents that one of his first big league clients came in late 2007 or early 2008 and was a journeyman player who spent time with four teams, including the local Marlins. He also told them of treating other journeymen players.

Bosch said he also had a handful of well-known players in the "pipeline" when the Biogenesis scandal erupted.

Multiple sources also told ESPN that federal authorities uncovered at least two other prominent major leaguers tied to the South Florida doping scandal but didn't pass them on to MLB, upset because they believed baseball officials had earlier undermined their probe by filing civil lawsuits that identified targets of what at the time was an ongoing criminal investigation.

Most of the pro athletes interviewed by federal drug agents told of knowing Bosch as "Dr. T." None randomly stumbled into his South Florida office; rather, they were referred by friends or what Bosch called his "agents," characters on the baseball fringe such as A-Rod's cousin, Yuri Sucart Sr., and Juan Carlos Nunez, a regular around ballparks and an accomplished recruiter of Latin baseball talent. Bosch told federal agents that Nunez pocketed nearly $25,000 a month in commissions, while around a quarter of the $12,000 A-Rod paid monthly for PEDs was kicked back to Sucart, already on his cousin's payroll for about $80,000 a year as his personal assistant.

A staple of Bosch's doping protocols was testosterone, either injected via preloaded syringes supplied to players or mixed in toothpaste-like creams, but Bosch remains most proud of his signature gummies, or troches, which contained low levels of testosterone and thus were a form of microdosing -- fast-acting to avoid detection in drug tests. Placed under the tongue and slowly dissolved about 30 minutes before first pitch, the red gummies were sold as not only delivering testosterone for a late-game push but also being packed with microdoses of nutrients to help prevent cramping.

Testifying at Alex Rodriguez's arbitration hearing in October 2013, Manfred referred to testosterone as the focal point of the game's drug-testing program, adding: "I think most people who are involved in programs designed to deal with and prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs consider testosterone to be the mother of all performance-enhancing drugs.''

Carlos Acevedo, who apprenticed under Bosch and later partnered in a clinic with him, told DEA agents that testosterone would "improve baseball players' eyesight."

Manny Ramirez, then nearing the end of his career, told authorities that he didn't feel as tired when using substances provided by Bosch.

Melky Cabrera, who went from being released by the Atlanta Braves after the 2010 season to All-Star Game MVP with the San Francisco Giants in 2012, told investigators he "felt more focused."

Jordany Valdespin, then shuffling between Triple-A and the big league Mets, also told authorities he "performed better."

Yasmani Grandal, who signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Chicago White Sox before the 2020 season, advised federal investigators that Bosch told him not only would he lose weight and not be as tired, his hands would "get faster" and he would have "more concentration."

Bosch told federal authorities a key source to some MLB clients was Nunez, whom he connected with in 2010 while haggling with former big league middle reliever Jordan Norberto over what Bosch described as a $17,000 performance-enhancing-drug tab. The player, who had said to an acquaintance that the tab was $5,000, did not respond to a request for comment.

Nunez told ESPN he was acting in a concierge-like role for players, arranging shipments of cars back to the Dominican Republic after the season. "[The reliever] said, 'Listen, have you shipped the cars out?''' Nunez recalled. "If I answered yes, none of this would've happened. So, I said, 'No, the cars haven't been.'''

He said the reliever responded, "Do me a favor; there's a doctor in Miami that I owe $5,000 to.''

So, Nunez delivered the 2007 GMC Yukon as payment to Bosch. Nunez said the Yukon had a market value of $17,000, but he's unsure whether Bosch ever paid back the difference to the reliever. The black SUV remained Bosch's ride for several years. "Why not? I earned it," Bosch told ESPN. The reliever shows up in clinic logs and government documents under the nickname "Yukon."

At the time, Nunez was positioned as a Latin recruiter for ACES -- one of MLB's most prominent sports agencies -- run by the Levinsons. He remains banned from MLB as a result of his role in Biogenesis.

Bosch also revealed to federal agents that his clinic played a bit part in the ruse created by Nunez after Melky Cabrera tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in 2012, whereby Nunez established a phony website that he claimed sold a topical cream responsible for the elevated testosterone levels. The previously nonexistent testosterone cream was mixed in the Biogenesis office, according to Bosch and the clinic staffer assigned to mix it.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred noted: "Bosch was in the evidence-creating business. ... When somebody had a problem and ate one too many [testosterone] gummies and we caught them, he was part of the cleanup squad as well as being the prescriber.''

The Levinsons were censured by the MLBPA, which certifies agents, for failing to adequately monitor their representative, Nunez. But the players' association cleared the sports agents in 2015 of knowing anything about its players using PEDs, saying it "found no evidence that Sam Levinson, Seth Levinson, or any other ACES principals participated in, or had knowledge of, the supplying of banned drugs to players." The players association retained Washington attorney Robert Muse to review agent activity tied to the Biogenesis case.

Nunez subsequently sued the agency for $2.5 million in unpaid commission. The parties reached a settlement in 2020.

Players interviewed by authorities, and a sampling of what they said:

Yasmani Grandal, now of the Chicago White Sox:

Nicknamed by Bosch as "Peter Springs'' because his favorite player was Pete Rose and Grandal had grown up in Miami Springs, Florida ... Says he met Bosch in December 2011 and wanted to get "cut'' for spring training, to increase his size and lose fat. Grandal told authorities he always worked and played hard, but now wanted to "look the part'' ... Bosch told him to communicate via WhatsApp because it was "untraceable'' ... Bosch asked to be paid about $3,000 a month, but Grandal negotiated $1,000 because he was not a major league player at the time. Bosch would also get 10% of any performance bonuses and the price would increase to $5,000 a month upon his reaching the majors. After agreeing on the terms, Bosch and his partner, Carlos Acevedo, rented a "very cheap'' motel room on the main drag in Coral Gables, where they met to draw Grandal's blood. Bosch also injected him in the buttocks with a reddish liquid. Doping protocols included human growth hormone, testosterone cream and testosterone troches/gummies ... Bosch's younger brother, Ashley, delivered Grandal's medication to Arizona in spring training 2012 -- $1,000 for meds plus $500 for travel expenses ... While in town in July 2012 to play the Marlins, Grandal went to Bosch's office to pick up his meds and also received an injection in his buttocks and an IV. Grandal failed an MLB drug test, which was reported in November 2012 ... Grandal was on the San Diego Padres' 40-man roster at the time and went on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before the 2019 season, the switch-hitting catcher signed a one-year, $18.25 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. A year later, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Chicago White Sox -- then the biggest contract in franchise history ... DEA investigative documents reveal authorities also interviewed Annelys Reyes, Grandal's girlfriend at the time, who accompanied him to meetings with Bosch. She told authorities the initial meeting at Bosch's office took place at 9 in the evening and that Grandal told her Bosch was someone who could help improve his "baseball game.'' According to Reyes, Grandal was told by Bosch they couldn't be seen together and payments needed to be in cash. Reyes told authorities she later picked up meds at Bosch's office and paid $1,000 cash -- money previously wired to her personal account by Grandal ... Reyes told authorities that she witnessed Grandal inject himself in the stomach and buttocks. She also saw two creams that Grandal applied to his upper arms. According to the documents, Reyes was instructed by Grandal not to touch him while he was wearing the cream because it would "cause her to grow hair'' ... Reyes said she contacted Grandal upon receiving a grand jury subpoena and he was fine with her giving a statement to law enforcement ...

Francisco Cervelli, last played with the Miami Marlins in 2020 and last season was a San Diego Padres coach:

Nicknamed by Bosch as "Chamo" ... Cervelli told the feds he was introduced to Tony Bosch in March 2011 by Yuri Sucart, the cousin of then-New York Yankees teammate Alex Rodriguez. Sucart was trusted because he was related to A-Rod and often around the clubhouse ... Cervelli suffered a broken foot, and Sucart told him he had a doctor in Miami who could speed up recovery. At the time, Cervelli recalled being "desperate to keep his position with the New York Yankees'' ... He was charged a $10,000 fee to start the program and then $5,000 a month; estimated to authorities he spent $30,000-plus on meds (HGH injections, testosterone cream and gummies) ... Understood he was violating rules, but Bosch assured he wouldn't test positive ... Suffered a concussion in September 2011 and asked to stop the doping program but advised he needed to go back on it for the offseason. As an incentive, Bosch and Sucart offered to reduce the monthly fee to $3,000. The money was paid to Sucart in cash, but Cervelli never received the protocol. A year later, Sucart called and said he had been working with someone else and asked if he would want to restart the program. Cervelli declined ... Cervelli subsequently played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves. His career was slowed by injuries and at least seven concussions. He last signed a one-year deal in 2020 with the Miami Marlins for $2 million.

Antonio Bastardo, out of baseball since 2018 after testing positive:

Bastardo told federal authorities his "personal agent" was Juan Nunez, who worked for ACES sports agency. Bastardo, who was suspended after the Biogenesis investigation, told authorities he was approached by Nunez in 2012 while in spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies about taking substances from a doctor he was close with, and told that the doctor - who referred to himself as "Dr. T" -- could make him "play and feel completely better'' without the risk of testing positive ... He was charged $2,000 cash for a 30-day supply of performance-enhancing substances -- pinkish/red-colored liquid injected in the buttocks morning or evening but never before a game, and a clear liquid injected in the morning, before a game and at bedtime. Also received a small bottle containing amino acids ... Bastardo told authorities the regimen became tiresome and difficult to follow, so he stopped after two weeks and threw away the remaining vials ... Bastardo later played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the New York Mets in 2016. He signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018 and was suspended a second time, for 140 games this time, following a positive test for stanozolol, a synthetic steroid.

Cesar Puello, last played in the New York Mets minor league system in 2021: played in both the Mexican and Dominican Winter Leagues in 2022-23

Nicknamed by Bosch as "Mi hijo'' ... Puello told authorities that Juan Nunez called in December 2011, inviting him to stay at his South Florida residence, where he could get ready for spring training. Puello, then in the New York Mets' farm system, described himself as immature and saw Nunez as a mentor. Nunez advised that he could get him "something to use'' where there would be no positive test and no payment up front ... Nunez drove Puello to Bosch's office, across from the University of Miami campus. No payment for substances was made, but he agreed to pay an unspecified amount to Bosch as a "gift'' if he made it to the major leagues ... First visit included an injection in the stomach with a small syringe containing clear liquid -- advised the shot would give him more energy ... Received a blue Ziploc plastic bag that contained about 20 smaller syringes with clear liquid, which he was to inject morning and night; six to seven larger syringes with a red substance to inject in buttocks, which was "to get better'' and give him more power. On subsequent visit, he received gummies and was advised to take them under the tongue, one just before games for more energy ... Used performance-enhancing drugs from December 2011 until April 2012. Told federal agents he had more power but was injured more often ... Puello bounced around the minors; he had brief stints on the major league rosters of the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox.

Jordany Valdespin, until last year played independent league baseball:

Nicknamed as "Tremendo'' ... Valdespin told authorities that Juan Nunez was his "direct agent'' and sold him on getting something to increase his performance. Claimed he gave in because he was on a roller coaster between Triple-A and the New York Mets. After a May 2012 day game against the Miami Marlins, Nunez picked him up at the Mets' team hotel in Miami and drove to Bosch's office. Bosch explained the doping protocols in Spanish ... Blood was taken during the visit, but Valdespin told agents Bosch never reviewed or told him of the results ... Bosch charged only $2,000 for four-month supply because he was a rookie. While in the office, he received two injections -- a small needle of a clear liquid in his stomach, a larger needle of a red liquid in his buttocks. Told agents he was supplied 60 of the small injections, eight of the larger injections, two creams and "chicklets,'' which were to be used before games and dissolved under the tongue ... He reported performing better and having no side effects ... Bosch told ESPN and federal authorities that Valdespin called after every home run to thank him, describing him as a confident person: "He did not buy cool at Target. He was born cool'' ... Valdespin has bounced around the minor leagues, the Mexican League and independent leagues. He was released from the Minnesota Twins organization in 2019, playing with the Lexington Legends in 2022 and most recently in the Dominican Winter League.

Mike Fish is a senior writer at ESPN. Reach him at michaeljfish19@gmail.com. On X, formerly known as Twitter, his handle is @MikeFishESPN.