DEA documents show how Braun built Biogenesis doping defense

Illustration by ESPN

As Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun put the finishing touches on his 2011 National League MVP season and epic postseason performance, his performance-enhancing-drug suppliers couldn't have been more proud -- of him and their work.

On Oct. 9, Braun's 463-foot two-run homer and two-run double keyed a victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, giving him a stunning postseason resume in the first six games: 2 homers, 8 RBIs and a .500 average after getting 11 hits in 22 at-bats. In South Florida, Tony Bosch and Marcelo Albir, a Braun friend and former University of Miami baseball teammate, were sky high as they texted.

Albir: Our boy is playing incredible!

Bosch: Hey tell our boy not to take anymore troches and to throw the cream away. This guy is out of control!!!!!!!! Lol!

Albir: Hahaaha!

Albir: That guy is a beast!

None of them knew it at the time, but Braun had failed a drug test several days earlier, having exhibited levels of testosterone at least five times the allowable limit. The magic stuff that contributed to the hitting outburst and the failed test? An anti-inflammatory and performance-enhancing, substance-laced cream applied like deodorant and dissolvable testosterone lozenges sometimes called gummies or troches -- think paper-thin breath strips -- created by Bosch and pitched to Braun by Albir.

Back in Milwaukee, then-commissioner Bud Selig, who had earlier purchased the Brewers and brought them to the Midwestern city, was devastated when tipped off about the team's much-beloved player by his chief assistant, Rob Manfred. Selig wrote in "For the Good of the Game" that his understudy "didn't always call me when positive results came in on a drug test, but with Braun he gave me the courtesy of a heads-up."

"Do what you have to do," Selig told Manfred.

In the 18-month saga that would follow, Braun would vehemently deny culpability, ruthlessly blame an innocent man for his own troubles, shamefully confess to doping and accept a negotiated 65-game suspension from Major League Baseball. Bosch, founder of the South Florida-based Biogenesis of America clinic, would end up publicly disgraced, broke and sent to federal prison for his part in the largest doping scandal in American sports history.

That's the known version of the tale. But federal U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration documents obtained by ESPN, and interviews with Bosch and those close to the Braun case, offer a rare inside look at how a major star found his way to a performance-enhancing-substances dealer and then scrambled to fend off doping allegations once everything blew up.

The scandal surrounding Bosch, 59, a self-described biochemist who introduced himself as "Dr. T" to clients, and his Biogenesis clinic broke open in 2013, and, before it was over, 21 professional baseball players connected to him were suspended by Major League Baseball, including Alex Rodriguez, Braun, Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon.

The documents obtained by ESPN are from the DEA investigation -- dubbed "Operation Strikeout" -- of Bosch and his associates. The several hundred pages consist of federal agents' 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.

As part of their investigation, DEA agents interviewed Bosch -- who pleaded guilty in October 2014 to conspiracy to distribute testosterone and was one of eight people convicted in the federal investigation -- at least nine times. They also interviewed Albir, Braun and Carlos Acevedo, a Bosch protégé who told agents he prepared the substances for use by Braun.

Braun did not respond to a request for comment made through his father, Joe.

An attempt was also made through Braun's longtime agent, Nez Balelo, who told ESPN: "He's not going to give you any comment on any of that stuff. That ship is sailed -- it's history."

Albir could not be reached through the attorney who represented him in the case, Stephen Rosen.

But during an interview with federal agents a decade ago, Albir told federal agents that his relationship with Bosch dated to late 2010 or early 2011. He was working out at the University of Miami when Jimmy Goins, then a strength and conditioning coach at the school who had noticeably improved his physique, recommended that Albir meet Bosch, who operated a small rejuvenation clinic across from campus. Albir said he and another former Hurricanes teammate -- Cesar Carrillo -- became Biogenesis clients that day.

Albir said he and Carrillo had remained close to Braun since their college playing days at Miami, and Albir at some point told Braun about the cream and lozenges. Braun told federal authorities that when he injured his leg "above the calf and below the hamstring" just after spring training in 2011, he contacted Albir, his "old friend," to see whether the cream was still as effective as he had previously stated.

In his interview with the federal agents, Braun told them he was not informed about what was in the lozenges and cream, but Albir, who spoke with agents two months after Braun, told them Braun knew exactly what he was being supplied.

Notes from Albir's interview read: "Albir stressed to agents that Braun was aware that the 'gummies' contained a low dosage of testosterone prior to Albir purchasing them" for Braun and that both Albir and Carrillo also "advised Braun that the cream contained HGH [human growth hormone]."

There are no indications in the documents that Carrillo spoke with federal investigators.

Once Albir assured Braun that the cream was as effective as he had previously stated, Braun asked Albir to mail him the cream to help heal his spring training injuries. Braun told authorities Albir mailed the package to the Brewers clubhouse or to Braun's Milwaukee residence. In his interview with authorities, Albir said he didn't remember the shipping address, but he said that Braun instructed him to "mail the cream under the name of 'Shaun Marcum.'" Albir told authorities he assumed that was a fictitious name, only later realizing that Marcum was a Braun teammate and Brewers pitcher. Marcum, who retired after the 2015 season, did not respond to multiple phone messages and texts.

Coincidentally, only a year earlier, while on the staff of the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays, Marcum delivered the pitch that Alex Rodriguez hit for his 600th career home run.

The application instructions for Braun were simple: Apply two clicks' worth of the cream from a deodorant-like dispenser to the sore or injured area. The cost: $1,500 for a two-week supply, Braun told authorities. Braun said he didn't consult with the team physician about his use of the cream, although he told DEA agents he believed it worked.

Braun would put up an MVP season that year, hitting .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs. He so impressed team management that the Brewers extended his contract five years during the season. The $21 million average annual value of the extension was then the second highest for an outfielder behind only Manny Ramirez's two-year, $45 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers -- a fact not lost on Bosch, who proudly acknowledges having supplied substances to both players.

When Braun aggravated the left leg injury later in the 2011 season, he told federal agents -- as well as two personal attorneys by his side during the interview at the DEA's regional headquarters in Weston, Florida -- that he asked Albir for another shipment of the cream. This time, he also asked that the package include testosterone lozenges, which Braun viewed as a replacement for Red Bull energy drinks that he routinely consumed before games. Total cost: $3,000.

Separate documents obtained by ESPN -- these from grand jury evidence related to the Biogenesis investigation -- revealed a series of Albir-Bosch BlackBerry messages from the 2011 season tied to supplying Braun. According to their interviews with federal authorities, Bosch and Albir also discussed pitching a more extensive doping program for Braun the next season -- one costing a minimum $10,000 up front and $6,000 a month.

July 5 (11:14 a.m.):

Albir: Tony was wondering if you were able to get ibuprofen cream for Ryan?

Bosch: Yes can u pick up tomo or thiis evening

Aug. 11 (3:27 p.m.):

Albir: Tony wats up long time no talk, hope all is well. I was wondering if you can provide more of the ibuprofen cream and also something to help give more energy for Ryan. He wants something to give him a boost but not having to take any shots. Let me know if that's possible. Thanks

Aug. 15 (1:21 p.m.):

Bosch: I can give him an infusion before post season that will take him over the top. Just need the exp paid. I usually charge $2000 per infusion. It will be a gift and a closing point for next season. He won't be able to live without it!

Albir: K perfect! Gonna talk to him soon and I'll get back to you.

Bosch: For next season, it would be $15,000 up front and $8,000/month. We can play w the numbers, but no less than $6,000/mo and no less than $10,000 up front. You and me go half after expenses.

Albir: Sounds good!

Sept. 7 (11:30 a.m.)

Albir: Will the gummies and cream be ready today? I'm leaving tomorrow to visit Ryan. Thanks.

Albir: He wanted me to bring them with me.

Bosch: No tomo. I can always fedex to you

Albir: K sounds good, I will send you were to ship. Thanks.

Sept. 8 (3:49 p.m.)

Bosch: Hey got everything. Give me an address.....

Albir: Send to The Pfister Hotel 424 E. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202 send to me Marcelo Albir

Albir: If you can send it am so I can give it to him tomorrow before he goes to the field

As the 2011 postseason began, Braun performed like the MVP he would soon officially be crowned, teaming with Prince Fielder to lead the Brewers past the Arizona Diamondbacks in an NL Division Series before eventually losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series.

Back in South Florida, Albir and Bosch basked in Braun's success. Their emotions spilled out in a string of texts Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, the day after Braun's two-run blast.

Albir: Our boy is playing incredible!

Bosch: Hey tell our boy not to take anymore troches and to throw the cream away. This guy is out of control!!!!!!!! Lol!

Albir: Hahaaha!

Albir: That guy is a beast! He's hitting amazing?

A few weeks later, though, as the calendar flipped to November, the tone of the text exchanges became more serious.

Braun had been informed by MLB officials in late October that he had tested positive for high levels of testosterone. The Braun defense hadn't officially been formulated, so the outfielder searched for answers. He told federal authorities he sought out Bosch for advice. Bosch and Braun talked on the phone about ways to thwart the test results. Albir then reached back out to Bosch.

Nov. 7 (1:49 p.m.)

Albir: Our friend wants to know if you know any names, #'s reputable doctors we could reach out to that would say the same things you were telling him?

Albir: Also if Red Bull or Fast Twitch or any other NSF certified supplements would affect T/E ratios at all?

Bosch: I don't know about twitch or any other supement. Definitely not red bull.

Nov. 10 (12:02 a.m.)

Albir: Yoo wats your email? Got more info about our boy!

Albir: He wants to come down next week to Mia?

Albir: Willing to pay whatever!

Albir: Our friend wants to fly in and talk to you.

Bosch: Monday evening at the ritz in key Biscayne. I will rent a hotel suite

Albir: K cool

Nov. 12 (7:11 p.m.)

Albir: I just emailed you our friends test results

Bosch: Ok thx. I will take a look at it

On a mid-November night, Braun huddled at the Ritz with Albir and Bosch, whom the ballplayer was meeting in person for the first time. Braun asked for Bosch's help. In turn, Bosch reached out to Chris Lyons, a friendly Miami-area attorney he had leaned on for counsel when Manny Ramirez tested positive two years earlier. Lyons would bring in David Cornwell, an Atlanta-based attorney well-versed in the science of doping cases who later became part of the defense team when Alex Rodriguez got caught up in the Biogenesis scandal.

Going forward, Albir told authorities, Bosch and Braun remained intentionally secretive about their first get-together, noting that both "agreed this meeting never happened and during any future meetings Bosch and Braun would act as if it was their initial meeting."

A week later, the next Sunday, the group -- minus Albir and with the addition of Nez Balelo, Braun's agent at Creative Artists Agency, and Terry Prince, director of legal at CAA -- met for around five hours at the same Ritz-Carlton to brainstorm about a defense strategy. Asked about the meeting, Balelo told ESPN, "I don't want to get into this. I really don't. I really don't."

Appearing hungover from the previous night, Bosch showed up late and missed the introductions. His role would ultimately be diminished because of the baggage he brought to the group, sources with knowledge of the meeting told ESPN. Bosch has acknowledged to ESPN that he drank excessively and used cocaine regularly at the time.

Even so, as far as knowing his PEDs and his science, Bosch impressed his small audience.

"When Bosch would speak about medical stuff and the science, you would think he was going to win a [Nobel] Prize or whatever," said a Ritz attendee. "The guy was super articulate, knew what he was talking about. And if you didn't know that he wasn't a doctor, you would be convinced that he was. He was very well-educated on the whole thing."

At the meeting, Bosch and Cornwell initially focused on possibly challenging the science, although the science behind drug testing had advanced so significantly over the previous decade that it was deemed virtually ironclad. And although the idea behind putting just small doses of testosterone in the lozenges was to keep amounts hovering below detectable levels, Bosch said Braun had blown the test badly by having consumed too many in too short of a time frame. Not once, sources familiar with the meeting told ESPN, was it argued that Braun hadn't actually taken testosterone.

"Obviously, everybody knew he's guilty," Bosch told ESPN. "But the nature of the competitive athlete is to be competitive in everything in life. So he's going to go ahead and fight it. He's not going to just lie down and take it, was his attitude. And so in that room, we started throwing back ideas on how we're going to attack this."

With them unable to dent the science, Lyons suggested an idea to challenge how the drug test was actually handled by the tester after it was given -- a tried-and-true lawyer tactic of attacking evidence collection. "That was the only thing that was flaky," Bosch said. "That was the only thing that was subjective."

Braun was the drug cheat, but he didn't craft the now much-maligned defense that led to the first successful challenge by an MLB player of a positive test. Braun just agreed to it, and he later told federal agents "the chain of custody issue was deemed a better chance of succeeding than fighting the failed drug test."

Braun's urine sample had been collected on a Saturday after the Brewers' first game of the 2011 postseason -- a game in which Braun played left field, batted third and had three hits in four at-bats as Milwaukee defeated the Diamondbacks 4-1.

Two days after the defense team had huddled in Key Biscayne, Braun was all smiles in the media spotlight as he won the National League's MVP Award. The public still had no idea about the positive test, and only a select few in baseball were aware of it.

Within the Braun PED camp, news of the MVP Award was seen by some as a bulwark against pending MLB action.

Nov. 22 (3:24 p.m.)

Albir: Our boy won the MVP award!!!

Bosch: Awesome. It will be harder now for MLB to try to f--- him

Albir: I think so too!

On Dec. 10, ESPN's T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported that Braun had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, bringing the issue to public light for the first time and setting up Braun's monthslong public efforts to clear himself. Braun's camp vigorously challenged the reporting. They said the test results showed such high levels of testosterone that it had to be false. Braun issued multiple denials.

At MLB's arbitration hearing Jan. 19 and 20 about the test results, Braun's team put in action the plan hatched in Key Biscayne.

They successfully argued that the test collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr., had failed to follow protocol when he took the player's urine sample home and stored it over the weekend before shipping it to a laboratory in Montreal. Braun told people he had been told the courier had been previously accused of being an antisemite and a Cubs fan who had it in for the Brewers. Although there was no open FedEx center at which the sample could be dropped off and no evidence that the sealed test had been tampered with, the 48-hour delay proved to be a deciding factor in the arbitrator's ruling in favor of Braun -- the first successful challenge of a blown MLB test. MLB's 50-game suspension of Braun had been overturned.

Laurenzi declined comment for this story.

"Basically, everything was against the guy," Bosch told ESPN of the attacks launched on the collector. "The guy was as innocent as innocent can be."

It appeared as though Braun had escaped.

"I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point," Braun said in spring training after he'd been cleared.

Nearly a year later, though, Biogenesis would blow up publicly and Bosch would turn into a source for MLB. He not only spoke with league officials about whom he had dealt with but also provided additional clinic records.

Braun kept fighting. Bosch told federal authorities that Albir offered him $75,000 in March 2013 to keep quiet about Braun -- money Bosch accepted but said he was never paid. Bosch's philosophy, he told ESPN, was that if a player were ever to be caught, everyone would go their separate ways.

Braun offered a different story, telling authorities Bosch asked for $15,000 to $20,000 for his help after beating the failed drug test. He said Bosch eventually dropped his asking price to $5,000, but Braun said it was "highly unlikely" his legal team paid Bosch anything.

As Major League Baseball prepared to suspend Braun a second time, he didn't offer much during a June 29, 2013, meeting with officials. But Biogenesis records obtained by the media and MLB proved so overwhelming that Braun and his reps negotiated a penalty suspending him without pay for the final 65 games of the 2013 season, costing him about $3 million in salary. Braun officially retired in 2021 and remains the franchise leader with 352 home runs; and under terms of his final contract, the Brewers pay him $1.8 million in deferred payments each July 1 through 2031.

According to notes from Braun's interview with the federal drug agents, MLB officials had evidence of his PEDs use "but Braun accepted his punishment and refused to look at MLB's evidence."

As for the behind-the-scenes role Dr. T played in attempting to craft defenses for Braun as well as for Manny Ramirez and Melky Cabrera, current commissioner Rob Manfred said: "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."

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